A dozen companies hope to grow and sell marijuana in Minnesota next year.
Friday was the deadline submit an application — and a $20,000 nonrefundable check — to the Minnesota Department of Health. Twenty-nine companies had notified the state they planned to apply to become the state's first medical marijuana manufacturers, but fewer than half followed through.
"Twelve is a good number, it will give us the opportunity to vet a number of quality applicants and ultimately we'll end up with some pretty strong manufacturers," said Michael Schommer, spokesman for the state's new Office of Medical Cannabis.
The state is looking for applicants strong enough to get an entire industry up and running in a matter of months. The Health Commissioner will select two manufacturers on Dec. 1. Those two companies will have until July 1 to set up secure indoor grow operations, hire staff, refine the plants into oils or pills — the only forms that can be legally sold in Minnesota — and set up eight shops around the state where medical marijuana will be sold.
The identities of the applicants will not be known until the Health Department makes its final choice. But several companies have already stepped forward, and reached out to the communities where they hope to set up shop. Members of the Bachman family of florists have launched LeafLine Labs and teamed up with the city of Cottage Grove to stake out space in a local office park where they could begin manufacturing — if they're one of the chosen manufacturers.
Other communities are less eager to start a dialogue with aspiring pot entrepreneurs. After two different entrepreneurs contacted the city of Richfield about opening marijuana dispensaries in town, the City Council this week passed a six-month moratorium on marijuana debate. City Manager Steve Devich said the community simply needed time to consider the issue.
"From our perspective, what's really important is to get ahead of the game and figure out how, or where, those facilities might fit into our community," Devich said. "This is an opportunity for us to step back and take a look."
Right now, no one knows where marijuana will be sold in Minnesota. The law that legalized medical cannabis limited its sale to just eight retail outlets in the entire state, and each of the two manufacturers will be responsible for setting up four distribution points across the state.
That's just one of the many uncertainties the state faces in the months leading up to legalization. No one knows yet how much the drug will cost or how many patients will want to buy it. The Legislature sharply limited the number of conditions that will be eligible for the drug — terminally ill patients and patients with conditions like cancer, seizure disorders or glaucoma can buy legally, but not patients trying to treat other conditions, like chronic pain.
The steep application fee was one way the state hoped to thin the pool of applicants to only the most serious contenders with the most thorough business plans — the sort of entrepreneurs who can weather what will likely be a rocky start-up period.
The 12 applications were considerably more than the five lawmakers expected from the fiscal note on the legislation. The $240,000 in application fees the Health Department just raked in will likely either go into the general fund or be used to offset the expenses for the Office of Medical Cannabis.