At the stroke of midnight, medical marijuana was legal in Minnesota.
Moments later, the state's first cannabis clinic welcomed its first patients.
"We've been waiting a long time for this," said Kim Kelsey, holding up a small white pill bottle containing a week's supply of cannabis pills outside. The Minnesota Medical Solutions clinic in downtown Minneapolis opened its doors just after midnight July 1 for a handful of clients, like Kelsey, who didn't want to wait even a few more hours to start treatment.
"We decided we weren't going to make them an extra nine hours," said MinnMed CEO Dr. Kyle Kingsley. "It's really an honor to serve the first three patients in Minnesota."
In a few hours, when her 24-year-old son Alec woke, Kelsey planned to give him his first dose of medicine, then wait again, to see if the treatment she and others fought for years to legalize will do anything to help his epilepsy.
The Minneapolis clinic closed at 2 a.m. to reopen at 9. Dozens more patients and caregivers had booked appointments during regular Wednesday office hours.
Minnesota's medical marijuana program is one of the most tightly regulated in the nation, and also the most clinical. Cannabis will be sold only in pills, oils or liquids, not as smokable plant material. The hope is that the manufacturers will be able to tailor doses, not only to different conditions, but to different patients and their needs.
Right now, Minnesota's medical cannabis program is open to patients suffering one of nine qualifying conditions, such as cancer, epilepsy, Crohn's disease or glaucoma. As of Friday, there were just 65 Minnesotans enrolled in the program, and many more searching for a doctor willing to certify them to participate in the program.
Despite the long fight and slow rollout, the program's first participants were jubilant.
"This is a huge day for Minnesota," said Patrick McClellan of Bloomington, holding the white prescription bag that held a vaporizer pen and $45 worth of cannabis he will use to treat the agonizing muscle spasms of muscular dystrophy. He had been fighting for legalization since 2012.
"It's going to be a huge difference," said McClellan, who had been self-medicating with marijuana for the past four years, in addition to the dozens of different prescriptions he takes to manage his rare form of the disorder. "Now I won't have the fear of arrest. But most importantly, I will be able to get medication in a safe environment and I will be able to get medications that are tailored to work for the needs I have, which is extremely important -- when you're finding stuff on the street, you have no idea what it is."
The state's second clinic opens in Eagan at 10 a.m. -- but not for all patients. LeafLine Labs, which operates the clinic, sent out word Tuesday night that its epilepsy treatments would not be ready on July 1. Five patients with epilepsy had scheduled appointments at LeafLine this week.
"During our final preparations, we determined that our medical formulation for epilepsy was not to our exacting standards for treating this condition," LeafLine CEO Dr. Andrew Bachman said in a statement. "We are now actively reformulating this medicine."
LeafLine will be open for business, Bachman noted in the Tuesday release: "Importantly, and to be clear, we are still seeing patients starting tomorrow for all qualifying conditions and we have a full compliment of medicine available for the additional eight qualifying conditions."