Marijuana: Medicinal Cannabis Laws Advance In Minnesota, Nebraska

Just a few weeks after New Jersey Senators made headlines for opposing Chris Christie's stance on medicinal marijuana, patients with "intractable pain" were added to the list of those eligible for purchasing medicinal cannabis in Minnesota. At the same time, a state senator from Nebraska is pushing a bill that would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes for the first time in his state.

As KARE 11 in Minneapolis reported, the restrictions that are currently in place have resulted in enrollment being low for the medicinal marijuana program in Minnesota. This expansion is expected to dramatically increase the number of Minnesotans enrolled in the program, which will in turn lower the cost of the program -- potentially making it affordable for some patients that might otherwise be without access.

Although the announcement was made on Wednesday, it won't be put into practice until August. The use of medicinal marijuana is a hot topic in the United States right now. Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger had this to say about coming to this decision:

"The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision. However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota's medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program's list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients."
While the move received support from the public, some experts and medical professionals in Minnesota remain cautious. Dr. David Thorson, President of the Minnesota Medical Association, is willing to sign these types of prescriptions for eligible patients, but not all of his colleagues feel the same way. "What we're hearing from our physicians is they do not feel the evidence is there to justify the use," he said.
Having recently returned from a trip to Minnesota to learn more about their medical marijuana laws, Nebraska State Senator Tommy Garrett is touring the Cornhusker State trying to gain support for a bill to legalize medicinal cannabis in his state. As the Sioux Land News reported, Senator Garrett makes the argument that marijuana is the best medical option for many patients in Nebraska. Making medicinal marijuana legal in Nebraska would prevent these people from having to choose between illegally self-medicating or moving out of the state altogether.
As the Sioux City Journal noted, the senator claims to have never used marijuana himself, medicinally or otherwise. "I'm about as straight as they come," he said at a press conference in Dakota City. Garrett's bill is fairly restrictive and doesn't actually allow for smokable marijuana to be legalized even for medicinal purposes. Instead, it calls for the legalization of medical THC in liquid, pill or liquid vapor form. This would apply to patients who are suffering from any of the following: Alzheimer's disease, cancer, Crohn's disease, glaucoma, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, severe muscle spasms, Tourette syndrome, or patients who suffer from a terminal illness and have a life expectancy that is less than a year.

Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, along with some opponents of legalized marijuana for medical purposes, warn that passing such a law is a slippery slope towards legalizing recreational marijuana.

Marijuana is still illegal at the federal level in the United States, whether used for recreational or medicinal purposes. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized medicinal marijuana use. Four states -- Oregon, Alaska, Washington and Colorado -- have legalized both medicinal cannabis and recreational pot.

[Image credit Justin Sullivan / Getty Images]