OUR OPINION: Science goes to (medical) pot
The words “medical marijuana” got most of the attention. But there’s another word in Minnesota’s new law that’s likely to make an even bigger difference — and not only in Minnesota, but also in North Dakota and other states:
The word is “research.”
In allowing the limited use of medical-cannabis pills and other specialized products, Minnesota’s House and Senate smartly required the state Health Department to track the program, collect data on how it’s used and — most important — find out whether the therapies work.
North Dakota voters and lawmakers, the U.S. government and many other interested parties will find that information very useful as time goes on.
On Friday, the Legislature passed a compromise law that will “legalize the limited use of some forms of medical marijuana by next summer, a deal that Gov. Mark Dayton said he will sign into law,” Minnesota Public Radio reported.
“Under the agreement, the state will authorize two medical cannabis manufacturers to set up operations in Minnesota and distribute the product in pill or liquid form to qualified patients at up to eight distribution centers by July 1, 2015.
“Smoking of marijuana is not allowed. State Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said patients would be allowed to vaporize ‘whole plant extracts’ but not dried leaves.”
The final votes are telling: 46-16 in the Senate, 89-40 in the House. When a landmark measure wins bipartisan supermajority support, it’s usually a sign that the new law has staying power and is destined to become a part of a place’s culture.
Congratulations to the bill’s sponsors for shepherding what had been a bitterly contested proposal into a striking achievement of legislative unity.
The research requirement of the new law may have helped solidify that support:
“The commissioner of health shall establish a patient registry program to evaluate data on patient demographics, effective treatment options, clinical outcomes and quality-of-life outcomes for the purpose of reporting on the benefits, risks, and outcomes regarding patients with a qualifying medical condition engaged in the therapeutic use of medical cannabis,” the law declares.
The commissioner shall also “conduct research and studies based on data from health records submitted to the registry program and submit reports on intermediate or final research results to the legislature and major scientific journals.”
More than anything else, medical marijuana needs scientific certainty about its effectiveness in order to become a therapeutic norm. Minnesota’s new law will help provide some of that certainly, very much including any findings that the therapies don’t work.
The research will be invaluable as the laws and norms around medical marijuana continue to change.