JANUARY 2019: LEGALIZATION OF MEDICAL AND RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

Rep. Mike Freiberg’s selfie at our February chapter meeting about marijuana.

Rep. Mike Freiberg’s selfie at our February chapter meeting about marijuana.

Speakers at our January chapter meeting discussed the evolution of medical cannabis, which is legal in Minnesota, and efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

Stephen Dahmer, chief medical officer of Minnesota Medical Solutions, one of four medical cannabis dispensaries in the state, noted that the medicinal properties of cannabis have been recognized for thousands of years, especially to treat pain. The United States made it illegal at the federal level relatively recently.

Cannabis doesn’t kill, it works synergistically with opioids, and produces well-tolerated side effects, Dahmer said. Minnesota recently added Alzheimer’s disease to a list of 13 existing conditions for which patients can buy medical marijuana. Dahmer credited patient advocates, including “seizure moms” (parents of children whose seizures were relieved by marijuana), for moving the legalization effort forward.

He compared the lifetime risk of dependence on marijuana, 9 percent, with that of other substances (nicotine, 32 percent; heroin, 23 percent; cocaine, 17 percent; and alcohol, 15 percent). Still, he said, we should be concerned about that percentage, even though it’s small.

But medical marijuana is not easy to get in states that have legalized it, Dahmer said. For one thing, insurance doesn’t cover it. As a result, he said, the medical cannabis industry has suffered as recreational pot has been legalized.

Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) discussed his plans to introduce a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in Minnesota. He said prohibition hasn’t worked and has led to big disparities in the criminal-justice system. Freiberg said he was taking a “public health approach,” informed by his experience as a lawyer who worked on public health issues, including tobacco control. This would entail giving the Department of Health the authority to regulate the sale, marketing, and manufacture of recreational pot for example, by setting minimum age limits and applying the Clean Indoor Air Act.

Freiberg said he wasn’t sure whether the bill would pass this year, although Gov. Tim Walz would likely sign it if it did, while Gov. Mark Dayton was not very supportive. Where to allocate the tax revenue from recreational marijuana is an important question, he said, adding that he favors channeling it to related activities like research, law enforcement training, and prevention.

Note: After our chapter meeting, Freiberg and Sen. Melissa Franzen, DFL-Edina, introduced a bill to allow individuals age 21 and older to cultivate, consume, and possess cannabis.

-– Suzanne Perry