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.

State surveys future medical marijuana patients

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: January 20, 2015 - 2:20 PM

The Minnesota Department of Health has set out to solve two of the great mysteries of legalized medical marijuana in this state: How many patients might use the drug and where do they live?

On Tuesday, the department launched an online survey on its Minnesota Medical Cannabis site, asking patients and caregivers to weigh in as the state rushes toward legalization on July 1. 

"We're making good progress in the development of this program, and as we move into the next phases we are looking for Minnesotans to help give us a bit more information about patients' conditions, location and level of interest," Assistant Health Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala said in a statement Tuesday. "This information will help us and the certified manufacturers refine plans and set up the program in a manner that best serves patients."

The survey is trying to gauge how many patients have one of the qualifying conditions conditions that would allow them to buy marijuana in pill or liquid form -- the only legal form of the drug in Minnesota. Those conditions include certain cancers and terminal illnesses, seizure disorders and muscle spasms, Crohn's disease, glaucoma, AIDS and Tourette's syndrome.

The tight timeline for legalization forced the state to set up a medical marijuana infrastructure without some key information. The two manufacturers the Health Department selected last month -- LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions -- have begun growing their first crops of cannabis and planning their first product line without a clear idea of the number of patients they might see, or the types of conditions they might have.

 The manufacturers also selected eight dispensary sites around the state before they knew where their patients might live. The state will have one dispensary in each of its eight congressional districts -- Minneapolis, St.  Paul, Eagan and Maple Grove, St.  Cloud, Hibbing, Moorhead and Rochester -- a map that leaves broad swaths of the state hours away from the nearest clinic.

The survey also wants to know the age of potential enrollees, their health coverage status and how many of the patients who would qualify for the program actually plan to do so. Registering for the Medical Cannabis Program will cost $200 -- although low-income patients would pay just $50. The cost of the drug itself has not yet been set by the manufacturers.

You can visit the full Minnesota Medical Cannabis site here.

Livestock continue dying in barn fires

Posted by: Maya Rao under People Updated: January 19, 2015 - 5:17 PM

The Upper Midwest continues to see massive casualties of livestock in barn fires, three weeks after we reported that such blazes killed more than 25,000 animals last year.

On Sunday night, 19,000 turkeys died at a barn owned by Jennie-O in Swanville in northwest Minnesota. Firefighters from Swanville, Grey Eagle and Flensburg rushed to the scene.

Swanville Fire Chief Jerry Hollermann said he was called to the scene around 9:30 Sunday night and fought the blaze along with about 40 other firefighters for six hours.

“The barn is standing, but it’s pretty extensive damage,” he said.

“They’re pretty small birds, so they were probably all gone when we got there,” said Hollermann. “Because just the smoke in the barn, the barns are pretty sealed up -- so when they have a fire in them, the smoke pretty well kills them right away.”

In December, 7,500 turkeys perished in a fire near Worthington; in October, 13,000 hogs died near Truman, Minn. Casualties were huge last winter and spring, when 300,000 hens perished in La Grange, Wis. and 150,000 hens died in a Galt, Iowa, fire.

Juror in trial of accused cop-killer Brian Fitch now fears for life, could be excused

Posted by: under Public safety Updated: January 16, 2015 - 12:21 PM

By Matt McKinney

Star Tribune Staff Writer

ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- A juror in the Brian G. Fitch trial now fears for her life after a description of her was broadcast in the media, potentially identifying her, the court said Friday.

The woman’s work history was included in a description of the jurors chosen so far, and friends and family recognized the woman by the jobs listed, she told the court. The woman was chosen for jury duty Thursday, one of 11 chosen after four days of juror interviews.

Dakota County District Court Judge Mary Theisen said she’s likely to excuse the juror. “She is very scared for her life and hasn’t slept,” Theisen said.

It wasn’t immediately clear which media company the woman was referring to. Her work history was not published in the Star Tribune.

Fitch, who stands accused of gunning down Mendota Heights police officer Scott Patrick and shooting at three St. Paul police officers, allegedly hatched a plot after his capture to kill two key witnesses in his case. Investigators learned in late December that Fitch told another inmate that he wanted to target two witnesses, according to prosecutors. The witnesses heard Fitch say he wanted to kill police or saw him in the car that officer Patrick stopped the day he was killed, prosecutors said.

Theisen told the prosecution and defense lawyers about the fearful juror on Friday morning. She also told four reporters in the courtroom that she wishes they would be more sensitive.

The jurors are identified by a number, not by name, in court, but personal details of the life come out during jury selection as the defense and prosecution interview them. Some 93 prospective jurors were summoned to appear at Stearns County District Court to potentially serve on the Fitch trial. More than two-thirds have been interviewed so far, and two were chosen Friday morning. If Theisen excuses the fearful juror, the trial will have 12 so far.

The case needs 12 jurors and two alternates.

Outstate economies are first to recover from the recession

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: January 15, 2015 - 4:27 PM

Just nine of Minnesota’s 87 counties have seen their economies recover to pre-recession levels, or better.

But that puts Minnesota in a stronger recover than almost anywhere else in the country.

A new report by the National Association of Counties ranks Minnesota third in the nation in county-level economic recovery.

All nine of the counties that have bounced back are in the outstate:  Clay, Marshall, Pennington and Polk in the northwest; Pope, Stevens and Wilkin in west central Minnesota and Jackson and Murray in the southwest corner of the state.

The economic recovery in some parts of Greater Minnesota is good news, said Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. But Minnesota can do better.

“The National Association of Counties study shows counties in Greater Minnesota are on the front end of the economic recovery,” Clark Sieben said in a statement Thursday. “While Minnesota ranks third nationally for the number of recovered counties, we must continue to focus on growing jobs and increasing economic opportunity for all of Minnesota.”

Barely 2 percent of U.S. counties – 65 out of 3,069 – have recovered to their pre-recession levels, according to National Association of Counties, which evaluated the counties by job recovery, unemployment rates, economic output and home prices.

Many Minnesota counties have recovered to pre-recession levels in at least some of survey’s categories. In St. Louis County, jobs and economic growth are back up, but home prices are lower and the unemployment rate is higher than it was before the recession hit. In Traverse county, economic output and home prices came roaring back, but jobs and the unemployment rate have not yet recovered.

Hennepin County, according to the survey, still lags in home prices and unemployment. Ramsey County has not yet recovered in any of the four categories.

According to DEED's Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages, 80 counties in Greater Minnesota have more jobs now than they did before the recession. The outstate has 19,580 more jobs now than it did in 2007, for a 1.8 percent increase. In the Twin Cities, job growth has increased 0.9 percent, with 34,308 more jobs than in 2007.

By DEED's count, Greater Minnesota has a much higher concentration of health care and social assistance jobs -- a field that kept booming through the recession. There are also more manufacturing jobs in the outstate and many of those employers kept their workforce, and even added jobs, through the recession and beyond.

Only the oil boom states of Texas – where 24 counties are back to their pre-recession levels – and North Dakota – with 10 – topped Minnesota’s county-level recovery in the report. Next on the list were Kansas, with eight counties in recovery, Montana with three, Iowa and Alaska with two each; and South Dakota and South Carolina with one county each back up to pre-2008 economic strength.
 

Two Minnesota players win $1 million in Mega Millions drawing

Posted by: Maya Rao Updated: January 14, 2015 - 10:43 AM

Two Minnesota players are rich after their tickets from last night’s Mega Millions drawing turned out to be worth $1 million each.

The winning tickets were bought in Blue Earth and Chisago counties and matched the first five numbers drawn: 12-20-25-50-51.

The ticket-owners have a year to claim the prize at Minnesota State Lottery headquarters in Roseville.

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