Minnesota has hired a director to lead its newly created Office of Medical Cannabis.
The Legislature legalized the limited use of medical marijuana this year and on Wednesday the Minnesota Department of Health named Michelle Larson to oversee the program.
The new Office of Medical Cannabis has one year to set up a statewide system that can produce, distribute and regulate the use of medical marijuana. Larson comes to the job after serving as deputy director of the health department's Office of Statewide Health Improvement, which tackled hot-button issues like tobacco, obesity and nutrition.
Larson's to-do list for the next few months will include screening and selecting the manufacturers who will produce medical marijuana, developing rules to govern the operation of the dispensary system and building a patient registry.
Minnesota has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws among the 23 states that have legalized the drug for medical use. Starting in July 15, patients with certain doctor-certified conditions like cancer, seizure disorders, glaucoma or terminal illnesses, will be able to legally buy marijuana in liquid, pill or other non-smokable forms. The federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance with no recognized medical use.
Two in-state manufacturers will produce all of Minnesota's medical cannabis, which in turn will be distributed at eight dispensaries around the state. Who those producers will be, and where those distribution centers will be located are among the first issues Larson and her 10-person staff will tackle this summer.
Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said the medical cannabis program will need to ramp up quickly and Larson -- an environmental health specialist who has also worked in the department's Office of Emergency Preparedness and served in the Minnesota Air National Guard's 148th Fighter Wing in Duluth -- has experience and skills for the job.
“This position requires a skilled administrator, but it also requires someone who can work with people from a range of backgrounds,” Ehlinger said in a statement Wednesday morning. “Michelle brings a strong background in public policy and administration, as well as a history of working with the public health community, law enforcement and security, pharmacists, health care providers and community members. She has the ability to work with people to get things done right.”
Larson starts work on Aug. 13. For more information about the medical cannabis program, visit: www.health.state.mn.us/topics/cannabis/index.html.
Wisconsin is stocking up on walleye.
The state’s Department of Natural Resources has launched the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative, a two-year, $12 million drive to fill the state’s lakes with delicious fishes.
State government, private industry and local tribes will team up to stock 750,000 to 800,000 fingerling walleye over the next two years, across 275 lakes.
In 2013, the first year of the program, the state stocked 450,000 large fingerlings and officials are predicting that Wisconsin walleye are heading for a population boom. In the past, the state had stocked about 35 lakes each year with larger walleye.
"Giving a much-needed boost to our walleye population is great news for our fishing community and it’s also great for our tourism industry and state economy," Gov. Scott Walker said in a statement. "The success of the Wisconsin Walleye Initiative is thanks to a great, cooperative effort by private, public, and tribal entities."
But Minnesota isn’t sweating the competition.
“They’ve got a ways to catch up,” said Neil Vanderbosch, fisheries program consultant for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
One of his predecessors joked that “we spill more fry in our hatcheries than most states stock.”
Walleye is the official state fish in the Land of 10,000 lakes. Last year, Minnesota stocked 300 million fry – tiny hatchlings – and 3.5 million fingerlings – larger juveniles between 4 and 8 inches long – last year. Those young walleye go into more than 1,000 lakes to supplement the natural populations.
At Monday's groundbreaking on a $28.3 million expansion of Interstate 94 to ease congestion over the Crow River between the cities of Rogers and St. Michael, were, from left, St. Michael city administrator Steve Bot, Rep. David Fitzsimmons, Rep. Frank Hornstein, Rep. Michele Bachmann, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle and State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer. (Photo by Samara Postuma)
The Minnesota Department of Transportation has greenlighted $6.5 million in improvements to four gridlocked outstate highways.
The projects announced Monday are part of the state’s Corridors of Commerce initiative, which targets traffic bottlenecks around the state. The latest projects include:
The Corridors of Commerce project has steered $306.5 million in funding to 14 projects statewide so far. Another $25 million in projects will be announced this fall.
Monday also marked the groundbreaking on a $28.3 million expansion of Interstate 94 to ease congestion over the Crow River between the cities of Rogers and St. Michael.
“Transportation projects funded by the Corridors of Commerce initiative will reduce travel times, improve safety for Minnesota citizens, and help our businesses transport their products more efficiently,” Gov. Mark Dayton said in a statement Monday. “The number of projects from all over our state, which sought financing from this program, underscores the acute need for more transportation funding to meet the needs of our state’s growing economy.”
The Legislature approved another $31.5 million for the Corridors of Commerce program this year.
In waterlogged Waterville, residents are filling thousands of new sandbags, grimly preparing for more rain.
"We've filled 2,500 sandbags in the past hour alone. It's been a remarkable effort," said Waterville Mayor Stephen Mihalik, who was out filling sandbags with other volunteers from the community Friday morning. "The town has come together."
More than just the town, he added. Volunteers have rushed in from every nearby county and city to help fill and stack sandbags. Work crews have braved high water, bad weather and attack by swarms of biting chiggers to work on the cleanup before the next storms hit.
If there's a bright spot in the storm clouds bearing down on Minnesota this weekend, it's the fact that the state won't get quite as much rain as forecasters had feared. The National Weather Service has downgraded its weekend predictions from four to five inches of rain to just one or two.
"The weather has turned," Mihalik said. "We were expecting to be the bulls-eye of up to 5 inches of rain in the next 48 hours."
The forecast was welcome news in communities like Waterville, where the floodwaters had just begun to inch down.
Another inch or so of rain might slow the receding floodwaters, but at least it shouldn't cause the rain-swollen rivers, streams and lakes to rise again, said National Weather Service hydrologist Craig Schmidt. A few areas, however, could be in for intense, isolated thunderstorms that could dump considerably more rain, along with a chance for heavy hail, high winds and even tornadoes.
Adding to the region's misery, the forecast calls for rising temperatures toward Sunday, so the crews out working on storm cleanup could face heat indexes in the 90s, Schmidt said.
"Be careful," he warned Minnesotans.
The worst storms are most likely to hit in the bottom third of Minnesota, which includes Waterville, a lakeside resort community of 1,800, where flooding has already damaged or destroyed a number of homes. The city's aging water treatment plant is pumping more than a million gallons of storm water a day through a system designed to handle a fraction of that flow, Mihalik said.
This is usually a beautiful time of year to be in Waterville, tucked between Lakes Tetonka and Sakatah. Now, the lakes are flooded and polluted with upstream runoff. Visitors are being asked to stay out of the water, and if they head out on their boats, to keep their speeds to a puttering 5 mph.
"We're a resort town. This is our time to shine. This is the time of year when we have boats in the water, people water skiing, tubing. We have incredible fishing -- all of which is being impacted now," Mihalik said. Small businesses in town are suffering as well. "The tourists aren't coming."
The city has already heaped tens of thousands of sandbags around the lakeside homes and the water treatment plant, he said. But he worries that the $3 million the state has already set aside for disaster relief won't be enough for the nearly three dozen counties that have declared weather-related states of emergency. He urged Gov. Mark Dayton to call a special session of the Legislature to allocate more money for storm relief.
"Tornadoes come and go and once they leave, you can go in and start cleaning up. Floods stay," Mihalik said. "It's like watching a tornado happen for months."
Showing more signs of improvement, former Minnesota State, Mankato football player Isaac Kolstad is being transferred from a Mankato hospital to a Twin Cities inpatient rehabilitation center.
According to his CaringBridge site, his family is “expecting lots of work ahead of us when we get to rehab.” Kolstad, 24, suffered serious brain and other injuries during a fight that erupted after bars closed in Mankato May 11. Former Gophers quarterback Philip Nelson and Trevor Shelley have been charged with assault stemming from the fight.
Kolstad’s family, in a statement, expressed gratitude for all the support. They say he has shown “more ability to interact” with family members, including his daughter, Malia, who was born during Kolstad’s stay at a Mayo Clinic facility in Mankato.
“When we lay Malia on his chest, Isaac consistently reaches up with his left hand and ‘holds’ her,” according to his site. “He has even patted her back and rubbed her little hand.”