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Minnesota names new director of medical cannabis

Posted by: Jennifer Brooks Updated: July 23, 2014 - 3:27 PM

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.

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