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The Cannabis Question: How it Works

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  • The Cannabis Question: A Patient's Perspective

    The Cannabis Question: A Patient's Perspective

    The bill has taken yet another step in the Senate and seems to be gaining momentum. Public Policy Polling says 65% of Minnesotans approve of legalizing medical marijuana, but the governor has said he won't sign it.
    The bill has taken yet another step in the Senate and seems to be gaining momentum. Public Policy Polling says 65% of Minnesotans approve of legalizing medical marijuana, but the governor has said he won't sign it.
Showing signs of compromise, the future of medical marijuana in Minnesota looks to be closer than ever before. Law enforcement representatives announced they struck a deal with lawmakers over a House bill to legalize marijuana for patients with severe illnesses, saying patients can only use the drug under doctor or nurse supervision and it can’t be smoked.

Governor Mark Dayton has said he will veto any bill that does not have law enforcement support.

The investigation into the cannabis question continues, looking at how the laws work in other states and to show you the model that has our law enforcement concerned.

California opened up the gates for states to create their own marijuana policies. Tonight, we're joining you from a city, where every other mile you walk you'll run into at least one medical marijuana dispensary, but that didn't come without a fight. In fact, you might be surprised to find in what ways the drug hasn't caught on.

You’ll find them next to coffee shops, behind construction zones, usually in unkempt neighborhoods, and the majority of visitors have the same reaction.

“This is a lot different than I expected. We like that,” Carey Grafmiller, an employee at the Bloom Room, said.

Grafmiller is part of what he’s calling a new age in cannabis dispensaries.

“We started with a really basic model, as far as dispensaries go, with the bullet proof glass and the counter top,” he said. “It's expanded a little bit. There are a number of shops that create more of a homey environment.”

The Bloom Room is your friendly neighborhood dope distributor, a sort of Willy Wonka of weed, where stoners come in as many shapes and sizes as the goodies on the shelves.

“They get to know you, you get to know them and their needs and the kinds of things they like and they're looking for.”

You have your various strains of marijuana, which you can smoke, vaporize or dab. The Bloom Room also offers a variety of pretzels, popcorn, peanuts, chocolates, cupcakes, muffins, milk, espresso beans, brownies, cakes, caramels and suckers.

“One of my favorite patients is a retired New York City police officer that moved to town, and she's 70, 75 years old, the tiniest little lady and she's had a hundred surgeries on her back,” Grafmiller explained.  “She was just tired of popping pills every day and she found a little medicated, vegan, chocolate, hemp milk that just does the trick for her.”

Occasionally, he sees the patients who put his job into perspective.

“I’ve had like a crying father come in and say, you don’t understand how much you’ve helped my child just get through her day,” he said, with excitement.

These are the same patients who brought medical marijuana to the forefront in California back in 1992, and one elderly woman, a volunteer in San Francisco General Hospital’s cancer ward with a gracious heart and a plate of brownies.

“She was known as Brownie Mary, and these were cannabis brownies and she was arrested for doing that,” Dr. Donald Abrams, Head of Oncology and Hematology at San Francisco General, said.

Brownie Mary changed the course of the career for Dr. Abrams, as he picked up the gauntlet for more marijuana-related treatment.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don't see a cancer patient who has nausea, pain, loss of appetite, insomnia, depression and I could write six different prescriptions for all of those concerns, all of those costing money and could interact with each other and could interact with the chemotherapy that I'm prescribing... or I could recommend one medicine and it's a plant that they could grow their own,” Abrams said.

Dr. Abrams has been an advocate for the herb since the early 90’s, but his first successful cannabis medical trial didn’t happen until five years after California didn'ted the Compassionate Use Act. According to Abrams, the legislation allowed patients to legally possess weed, but didn’t make it any easier for doctors to study ididThe real kicker here is the only legal source to get cannabis to do research with is from NIDA, the National Institute on Drug Abuse,” Abrams said. “NIDA has a congressional mandate to only study substances of abuse as substances of abuse, so they can provide cannabis but they can't provide funding for any clinical trials to show that cannabis may have a medical benefit.”

Under the Drug Enforcement Association, cannabis is classified as a schedule one controlled substance. That’s the same category as heroin, meaning the government believes it to have a high potential for abuse and no medical benefit. Methamphetamine and cocaine are both schedule two substances, so the government recognizers their medicinal properties and they can be accessed through a prescription.

“Because of the prohibition that we have in this country against this plant, this flower, to develop evidence which is what we need in this evidence-based medicine environment, people have to spend quite a bit of time and resources basically reinventing the wheel,” Abrams said.

In the 18 years medical cannabis has been legal in this state, Abrams has been able to complete just four studies, none of which show patients are negatively affected. 

Now, the industry that exists today is largely the result of unwavering advocates, people who have fought far beyond the state’s legalization for access to weed.

In fact, Grafmiller is on his second attempt at a dispensary. He was an employee at Medithrive, a dispensary that opened in 2009 and was forced to close in November of 2011.

“Back then, we were one of three I think, that had a nice looking façade,” Grafmiller said.

The federal government began sweeping closures of dispensaries across the state a few years ago. Hundreds closed their doors for what the US Attorney General said was standing too close to places children congregate.

“We're slowly dwindling and we're being pushed into more industrial neighborhoods, but then that’s kind of driving us to clean up the areas and make these industrial neighborhoods a little nicer.”

Californians are now dealing with the question of what’s best for their cities and people who live there.

Minnesota State Representative Carly Melin says this new deal struck with law enforcement is very likely to pass.

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