From Wabasha to Warroad, from Sleepy Eye to Silver Bay, Dateline Minnesota scours the state to bring you breaking news from outside the Twin Cities.

Zebra mussels found in Cass Lake

Posted by: Updated: September 12, 2014 - 2:11 PM

In a blow to state fisheries that some saw as inevitable, zebra mussels have been found in Cass Lake, a popular fishing and boating destination and one of the state’s largest lakes.

The find was reported to state Department of Natural Resources officials by a beachgoer who had been picking shells earlier this week along Cedar Island, one of five islands in the lake.

The suspected mussels were tested and verified at a DNR fisheries office in Bemidji. The find marks the first time that adult zebra mussels have been found in the Bemidji area. 

Cargill money to help draw more nurses to rural Minnesota

Posted by: Updated: September 11, 2014 - 6:30 PM

In an effort to draw more nurses to rural Minnesota to care for the elderly, the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation has made a $1.9 million grant to pay for classes, internships and work bonuses to nursing students. The grant, announced Thursday by Minnesota State Colleges and Universities and senior housing and services nonprofit Ecumen, runs for two years, with some of the work bonuses running longer.

The grant comes amid a huge rise in the number of elderly statewide as the Baby Boomer generation moves into retirement age. The number of people aged 65 and older will be the fastest growing population in Minnesota for the next 15 years, nearly doubling in size between 2010 and 2030 to some 1.3 million, according to Census estimates.

That aging population will find fewer rural nurses available to care for them, according to Ecumen, which in a statement issued Thursday said the rural nursing workforce has been shrinking.

Starting this school year, the Cargill grant will pay for clinical rotations, internships and part-time jobs for some MnSCU nursing students at Ecumen sites around the state. 

The Cargill money will also pay work bonuses for some MnSCU nursing students who go to work for Ecumen on their one-, three-, five- and ten-year anniversaries of their start date. A week-long summer camp for high school students next summer will introduce students to jobs in health care.

The two-year program has been dubbed the Ecumen Scholars program. It’s being coordinated by Healthforce Minnesota, a state-funded effort to improve health care.

Marijuana research in Minnesota no easy task

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: September 10, 2014 - 4:40 PM

Within a year, patients will be lining up to buy medical marijuana legally in Minnesota.

But for the state's scientists, it's still a struggle to do basic research into the medicinal properties of the plant.

Kalpna Gupta, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota spent four years entangled in federal paperwork before winning approval to study whether vaporized cannabis was an effective pain relief treatment for patients with sickle cell disease. The research itself will take another four years.

Eight years is "too long," Gupta told members of the Minnesota Legislature's Task Force on Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research Wednesday afternoon. The university is home to one one of only two labs in the United States licensed by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to grow cannabis, and its researchers are studying the drug's effectiveness on debilitating pain from conditions like cancer and sickle cell.

"When I try to do scientific research, social issues get in the way," Gupta told members of the task force, which will be assessing the effect of the state's new medical marijuana program. The 23-member panel is made up of lawmakers, medical and legal experts, law enforcement officials, substance abuse experts and patients.

Minnesota is one of 23 states that has legalized medical marijuana, despite the fact that the federal government still categorizes cannabis as a dangerous drug with no recognized medical value. The state is scrambling to get the new program up and running by next July.

The Department of Health is now accepting applications from entrepreneurs interested in becoming one of the two manufacturers that will grow and refine cannabis for the eight retail outlets that will be set up around the state.

Minnesota's medical marijuana law is more narrowly focused than most. Not only will there be fewer places to buy the drug than in many states, it will only be available for sale in non-smokable forms. The Legislature also limited the number of medical conditions that were eligible to use medical cannabis -- barring patients suffering from chronic pain and other conditions. Gupta, however, said preliminary studies indicate that cannabis may provide relief for different types of pain.

Minnesota will allow patients with a host of other illnesses access to marijuana. Approved conditions range from terminal illnesses to cancer to seizure disorders.

For more information about Minnesota's medical cannabis program, visit: www.health.state.mn.us/topics/cannabis/

Fargo mayor undergoing cancer treatment

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: September 9, 2014 - 11:04 AM
Star Tribune photo by Sherri Gross

Star Tribune photo by Shari Gross

Barely a month after he won a third term as mayor of Fargo, Dennis Walaker faced a far more serious fight.

Diagnosed with kidney cancer in July, Walaker issued a statement this week to announce that he is undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments that weakened him to the point of hospitalization. He said he was unaware of his condition until after the June election.

"While attending a family wedding in Vermont this July, I was feeling under the weather and my family convinced me to see my doctor when I returned," he wrote in a letter to Fargo residents on Monday. "I had been losing weight and originally thought it was because of concurrent sinus infections and a dental procedure. Unfortunately, this was not the case."

Walaker said he is currently staying in a rehabilitation facility, but stays in daily contact with his staff.

"I continue to improve every day and will continue my course of treatment very soon," he wrote. "I speak daily with Deputy Mayor [Tim] Mahoney and am briefed daily by the Executive Assistant to the Mayor and City Commission by the very capable Sharon Odegaard."

His letter concluded:

"I will continue to keep the City Commission and the citizens of Fargo informed of my situation. Fargo is an amazing place and I am proud and privileged to represent this City as your Mayor. I ask for your continued support and prayers during my cancer fight."

Bachman family ready to branch out into medical cannabis biz

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: September 5, 2014 - 2:35 PM

The owners of Bachman's Floral Gift & Garden Centers are ready to branch out into a new business -- medical marijuana.

The state of Minnesota begins accepting applications Friday from entrepreneurs interested in becoming one of the state's two new medical cannabis manufacturers. Among those interested are members of the family that runs the Twin Cities-based chain of florists shops.

"There are several family members that are interested," said company spokeswoman Karen Bachman, who declined to identify which family members might be submitting an application. The application process runs through Oct. 3 and interested entrepreneurs have until mid-September to notify the state that they plan to submit an application.

Individual Bachmans might be interested in getting into the medical marijuana business, but Bachman's the company is not.

"Bachman's, the company itself, is not including this in our core mission of delivering beautiful products at a real value," Bachman said.

The state's first two marijuana manufacturers will have until July 1, 2015 to get their operations up and running. That means setting up a grow operation, opening distribution centers around the state -- four per manufacturer -- hiring staff, setting up security and figuring out a business plan that will keep the operation afloat in what could be a lean couple of months or years in the beginning.

Medical marijuana has been a profitable venture in many states, but the Minnesota Legislature tightly limited the industry to just two manufacturers and eight distribution centers across the entire state. The Legislature also tightly limited the types of medical conditions that were eligible for the drug and limited its sale only to non-smokable forms.

Other restrictions, like a provision banning employees under age 21 from working at a cannabis facility, would make it hard for companies like Bachman's, which employes a number of college-age workers during the summer, to get into the business directly. But the state's selection criteria will be slanted heavily toward applicants with deep pockets, detailed business plans and a solid grounding in agriculture and finance.

Despite the limitations, and despite the $20,000 nonrefundable fee just to apply, more than 200 people showed up for an informational Health Department meeting about medical marijuana manufacturing last month.

The state is expected to begin accepting applications Friday afternoon.

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