Every candidate for governor has pledged to support the expansion of Minnesota's new medical marijuana program — except Gov. Mark Dayton, who signed the program into law.
Patients and supporters gathered at the State Office Building Thursday to call on the Democratic governor to join his Republican, Independence, Libertarian and Grassroots party challengers in a pledge to broaden the state's not-yet-launched medical cannabis program to give more patients with more conditions access to the drug.
"This is not a partisan issue," said Patrick McClellan, a Burnsville resident with muscular dystrophy who uses marijuana to treat painful, debilitating muscle spasms. "I do qualify for the medical cannabis program, but unfortunately tens of thousands of people do not."
The governor, however, is holding off on a marijuana policy discussion until after the election.
"I have not discussed any legislation with any group and will not until after next Tuesday's election," Dayton said through a spokesman.
The advocacy group Minnesotans for Compassionate Care asked every candidate this week whether they would support expanding the program to patients with conditions like chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. The group plans to lobby the Legislature to expand the program next session.
A broader bill — one that would have given more patients access to the drug and allowed it to be sold in plant form at dozens of retail outlets statewide — passed the Minnesota Senate this year. But after law enforcement groups objected, the Legislature passed a more limited, restrictive version.
Under the current law, about 5,000 patients in Minnesota will qualify to buy medical marijuana when it is legalized next summer. It will be sold only in liquid or pill form and will be available for sale only at eight closely regulated locations around the state.
The other gubernatorial candidates, including Republican Jeff Johnson, signed off in support of the Senate version of the legalization bill.
The Minnesota Health Department is in the process of selecting two companies to grow and refine the drug into a non-smokable form. The cannabis will be dispensed to Minnesota patients with qualifying conditions — including those who are terminally ill, adults and children with seizure disorders and cancer patients.
The first legal medical marijuana sales in Minnesota should take place July 1, 2015.