Medical Marijuana Compromise Already Sparking Skepticism from Advocates

Updated: 05/16/2014 6:14 PM By: Stephen Tellier

Minnesota will soon have a medical marijuana law on the books. Now, the real challenge begins - making sure the country's strictest system of its kind actually works.

One medical marijuana advocate says she's not sure the medical marijuana law will be able to function. The word many advocates are using to describe the deal reached by lawmakers is "bittersweet."

Little Wyatt Hauser shoulders a burden no two-year-old should have to bear. He has epilepsy. The seizures strike up to 100 times a day.

"This morning, he had one that was pretty intense. He was screaming and crying," said Jessica Hauser, Wyatt's mother. She said she's tried everything to help her son. She believes medical marijuana could be her son's savior.

"To have the hope of another treatment option is a wonderful thing," Hauser said.

But as lawmakers pave the way for the legalization of medical marijuana in Minnesota, Hauser's hope is tinged with heartache.

"I want Wyatt to have it, and he deserves to have it, but so do all the patients in Minnesota who need it," Hauser said.

"My biggest concern is the large number of patients who will be left behind," said Heather Azzi, political director for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care.

Azzi said Minnesota's bill could leave more than four out of five potential patients without access, because it prohibits the smoking of the marijuana plant, and patients with PTSD or chronic pain are not given access.

She said she's also optimistic, yet skeptical, that the proposed system will work. The bill calls for just two marijuana manufacturers in Minnesota. Both will face high costs to serve a small number of patients. Azzi said she fears prices will climb too high for patients to afford it.

"It's a very new approach that we're taking here. It hasn't been tried anywhere else, and there's no reason to believe really that it will or will not work," Azzi said.

Hauser said she hopes it will work for Wyatt, but asks, 'What about so many others?'

"It's a first step, but we still have a lot more work to do. We have a lot more patients that are worth fighting for," Hauser said.

If you're wondering why cost is a concern, medical marijuana is not generally covered by health insurance.

Azzi said she's also concerned about the restrictions placed on doctors, which she fears could prevent patients from being prescribed marijuana by their current specialists.

Another issue is access to banking for marijuana-related businesses. Right now, banks can be prosecuted for money laundering for working with such companies.

Minnesota's system will take many months to get up and running once the bill becomes law. But you can expect to see doctors writing prescriptions for marijuana starting in July of 2015.