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High costs, long distances will challenge medical marijuana users

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Minnesotans who fought so hard to legalize medical marijuana in the state are starting to realize it might still be difficult for some to acquire the drug, once it becomes legal to purchase it on July 1 to treat certain serious, chronic or terminal illnesses.

For one thing, it could cost hundreds of dollars per month for patients who need the treatment, and they'll have to foot the entire bill since insurance companies will not cover the costs, the Associated Press reports.

In addition, there are only eight dispensaries where the medicine will be available in the entire state, and four of them will be in the Twin Cities metro area. That means some patients will need to drive hundreds of miles to obtain the treatments, according to the Star Tribune.

The state's two manufacturers of medical marijuana tell the Associated Press the costs could range from $100 to $500 per month, depending on the patient's condition and the treatment they are prescribed.

Both companies – Minnesota Medical Solutions and LeafLine Labs – say they will do all they can to reduce the price for people with lower incomes.

One reason the costs are so high is that the marijuana cannot be smoked or sold in plant form. The companies need to use expensive equipment to convert the plants into pill or oil forms – the only kinds that are legal under the new state law, according to the AP.

As for the dispensaries, their numbers and locations were also the result of political wrangling over the new law, according to the Star Tribune.

The number eight was a compromise between lawmakers and law enforcement agencies. The Senate was pushing a plan to allow dispensaries in dozens of locations around the state, but some House members wanted only two.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommended that one be located in each of the state's congressional districts, the Star Tribune notes. But four of the districts are concentrated in the metro area.

The dispensaries will be located in the following cities: Minneapolis, St. Paul, Eagan and Maple Grove in the metro area; as well as outstate cities of St. Cloud, Hibbing, Moorhead and Rochester.

Health officials acknowledge that some patients will likely have to drive long distances to buy the medicine. But they also say that the dispensary locations could be changed, or more could be added, in the future as the demand for the drug becomes clearer.

In a related story, a Minnesota woman is due back in court Wednesday to face charges for giving medical marijuana to her son, who has a traumatic brain injury.

The prosecutor in Lac Qui Parle County has decided to press ahead with the case despite a petition with more than 9,000 signatures on it which was delivered Tuesday, urging him to drop the charges, according to the Star Tribune.

Angela Brown of Madison faces two gross misdemeanor charges of child endangerment for giving cannabis oil to her 15-year-old son, whose injury causes severe pain and muscle spasms.

Brown had taken her son to Colorado several months ago to purchase legal cannabis oil, and brought it back to Minnesota where she gave it to him on a regular basis. She said the substance eased his symptoms significantly.

According to the Star Tribune, someone told authorities of the marijuana use and they began an investigation, confiscated the oil and charged Brown.

She has a court hearing Wednesday morning and her attorney will argue that the case be dismissed.

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