By John Schroyer
Minnesota could wind up being a standout medical cannabis state in at least one regard: It’s been able to glide through the rulemaking and licensing process relatively smoothly.
At least so far.
Many states have taken years to implement MMJ laws, develop regulations and get the first businesses up and running. Minnesota, on the other hand, passed a law just last spring legalizing non-smokeable medical cannabis, and dispensaries are now on track to open to the public on July 1.
“We are aiming to open three of our four dispensaries in July, and hopefully the fourth one will be in August,” said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions (also known as MinnMed).
Leafline Labs, the other MMJ producing and dispensing company licensed by the state, is also on track for the summer, said co-founder Dr. Andrew Bachman.
“We’re ahead of schedule in construction (and) production and will certainly have medicine available to be dispensed on July 1,” Bachman said.
Minnesota stands in contrast to states like Illinois, Massachusetts and Nevada, which have all struggled with administrative delays and lawsuits pertaining to their respective MMJ programs.
In fact, it’s almost never this smooth.
Granted, Minnesota’s program is much smaller than those three other states – it only permits two MMJ companies, with four dispensaries apiece. But insiders say that Gov. Mark Dayton’s direction and hard work by state agencies has had a good bit to do with the smooth rollout.
“Minnesota did put in a very restrictive process right from the start, but that’s what has allowed us to stay on track, to stay well regulated, to stay focused,” Bachman said.
Kingsley agreed, and said the fact that his company is on track for July is “a tribute to the state government here in Minnesota. They have been unbelievably effective in this process.”
Attorney Chris Parrington, who works closely with the industry in Minnesota, said that if anyone had suggested to him in May 2014 when Dayton signed the law that dispensaries would actually be ready to open this July, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“I would’ve said you’re nuts,” Parrington said.
But Dayton and his team were able to fast-track the program by forming a three-employee medical cannabis agency within the health department and giving it some autonomy to operate.
“By taking that approach, the governor has allowed this to move along as quickly as it has, as opposed to what other states have done,” Parrington said.
Another potential factor in how Minnesota has been able to streamline its MMJ rollout is the simple fact that only 12 companies applied for the two MMJ business licenses in the state, compared to the hundreds that threw their hats in the ring in Nevada, Illinois and Massachusetts.
Still, some questions remain about how viable the program will ultimately prove to be.
For one, there’s no real sense of how many residents will sign up – or qualify – for MMJ. Though the state offered a voluntary questionnaire that roughly 1,400 Minnesotans responded to, registration for patients won’t begin until June. Estimates of how many will sign up range from a few thousand to over 10,000, depending on who you ask.
That has both companies wondering whether they’ll have enough supply on hand come July.
“Anybody who tells you a number can’t possibly be correct, because nobody knows,” Bachman said.
Kingsley said MinnMed is currently harvesting, but to date has less than 100 plants to use to make medicine.
“We’re going to have as much (MMJ) as is possible, given the time constraints. We’re going to produce as much as we can,” Kingsley said.
John Schroyer can be reached at email@example.com