ST. PAUL – Moorhead will likely be one of eight Minnesota cities where medical marijuana will be sold to patients with certain ailments, starting as soon as July.
That’s fantastic news for Amber and Paul Solum of Moorhead.
Their 13-year-old son, Brett, has 45 to 100 epileptic seizures a day. His team of neurologists at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester regard him as a “prime candidate” for medical marijuana.
With a doctor’s approval, they would like to try the treatment, Amber Solum said Monday.
“That would mean us not having to travel down to the Mayo or anywhere else,” she said.
News that Moorhead will be home to one of the distribution sites came Monday, as the state Health Department announced that Cottage Grove-based LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions in Otsego will be allowed to grow marijuana and process it into liquid, pills and vapor to help people with specific illnesses.
A state law passed earlier this year allows patients to begin receiving medical cannabis, the official name of medical marijuana, but continues to make it illegal to use the plant itself, including smoking it.
Twenty-nine organizations originally expressed interest in growing and producing medical marijuana projects, and a dozen submitted applications.
Minnesota Medical Solutions already has facilities built in Otsego and is expected to begin growing plants this week. Patients should be able to buy its products by July in Rochester, Maple Grove, Minneapolis and Moorhead.
LeafLine, partially owned by the Bachman floral family, plans to open a distribution center in Eagan next year, with sites in Hibbing, St. Cloud and St. Paul opening by July 1, 2016. Ground-breaking on LeafLine’s Cottage Grove growing and processing facility is expected this month.
Both MinnMed and LeafLine are for-profit firms.
Their distribution sites are tentative because before they open they must receive local government approval.
Moorhead City Manager Michael Redlinger said Monday that Minnesota Medical Solutions will need to comply with local zoning codes, but the city won’t have much control over what the business does once it is set up.
Redlinger and Mayor Del Rae Williams said they were confident the regulations the state established for how dispensaries operate were adequate.
“We always thought it would be a pretty good probability that Moorhead would be on the radar for one of the sites,” Redlinger said. “We don’t have any overwhelming concerns from the security standpoint.”
Redlinger said he will ask MinnMed officials to hold an information meeting for the public, though the city can’t require it.
Williams said while not everyone on the council or in the community is supportive of a distribution site in Moorhead, she does not think it will pose any issues.
“I don’t think people will even think about, truthfully, when it comes down to it,” Williams said.
State officials could decide to change the sites if needed to better serve patients.
While one location where medical marijuana will be distributed is in each of the state’s eight congressional districts, state officials admit it will be a long haul for some. In southwest Minnesota’s Luverne, for instance, the nearest distribution center is in St. Cloud, 199 miles away.
Assistant Health Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala said officials will monitor where patients live, and the state could change where distribution centers are located. Legislators also could amend the law to allow more distribution centers.
LeafLine co-founder Dr. Gary Starr said more sites may be needed.
“Our goal is to safely provide medical cannabis products to patients with qualifying conditions...” state Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said. “Our attention over the next few months will be on working with these two manufacturers to implement the program and safely grow, process and distribute the products.”
Marijuana takes four months to more than six months to mature, so some plants could be ready just before the July 1 deadline.
While the two companies are set to grow marijuana, state officials are not asking how they obtain seeds or starts for the plants. It is illegal under federal law to transport them across state lines and state law makes it illegal to grow marijuana anywhere but in the two facilities.
Starr said that last week he treated a 75-year-old women who might have benefited from medical marijuana.
“She was in severe pain,” he said, but “I could not solve the problem” with medicines now available.
Starr’s LeafLine partner, Dr. Andrew Bachman, called Monday “an historic day in Minnesota.” He said that 10 family members, known for Bachman floral operations, are involved in LeafLine to help relieve “some conditions Minnesotans live with and die with.”
“This is a great day for about 5,000 suffering Minnesotans and their families,” MinnMed co-founder Dr. Kyle Kingsley said of the estimated number of people who could benefit from medical marijuana.
Munson-Regala said some think 15,000 could seek marijuana products for treatment. Nothing in state law spells out who would get the medicine if demand outpaces available medicine.
“I suspect it will be first-come, first-served,” Munson-Regala said.
Williams said her brother died of lung cancer last year and she supported the state law allowing for medical marijuana.
“I think (medical marijuana) would’ve been very helpful to him,” the mayor said. “I know there’s a number of people that would benefit from it in our community, so there’s a benefit in having it in close proximity for people in Moorhead.”
For Brett Solum, it could be a difference-maker, his mother said.
He often stops in the middle of a conversation because he’s having a seizure. He’s in the 7th grade at Horizon Middle School, but not at the same level as his peers and takes most of his classes separately.
“It would just mean so much for him: learning-wise, as he gets older living on his own ... at least have his mind not interrupted by seizures so he can think clearly enough to get on a bus,” Amber Solum said.
“When you think of a 13-year-old, you think of a kid who is maybe starting to stay home by themselves, maybe even babysitting, whereas he can’t stay home alone, and he can’t babysit,” she said.
Brett takes 10 tablets of medication in the morning and 12 at night, some of which cause side effects such as hives and reduced hunger.
“Even to lessen one of his different medications that he’s on would be fantastic,” his mother said.
Patients who are interested in receiving treatment must be certified by their doctors or other health care providers to have a specific condition that state law allows to be treated by medical marijuana:
- Cancer with severe pain, nausea, vomiting or wasting.
- HIV and AIDS.
- Tourette’s syndrome.
- Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease).
- Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy.
- Severe muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis.
- Crohn’s disease.
- Life expectancy of less than one year with severe pain, nausea, vomiting or wasting.
State law gives the health commissioner power to add severe pain to the list of ailments treatable by medical marijuana products, but lawmakers have veto authority before the medicine is sold.