State names first-ever medical cannabis director

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Michelle Larson is Minnesota's first-ever director of the Office of Medical Cannabis.

Larson, a longtime Minnesota Department of Health staffer who most recently served as deputy director for the Office of Statewide Health Improvement, will be in charge of managing the medical pot program's staff, as well as creating and implementing its administrative policies, the department announced Wednesday.

What that means: The medical cannabis program currently has no processes to choose anything. It all needs to be created from scratch.

Two of her main tasks, according to the release, will be implementing an application and selection process for a medical marijuana manufacturer, and also building back-end infrastructure to handle the patient registry.

“This position requires a skilled administrator, but it also requires someone who can work with people from a range of backgrounds,” MDH Commissioner Ed Ehlinger said. “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.”

Larson will begin her job as director of the Office of Medical Cannabis on August 13.

The state is also looking for a research manager to help oversee the new office, whose job responsibilities include planning and organizing a new statewide medical cannabis patient registry. The manager would also ensure the research and registry portions of the program support the state’s goal of providing patients, providers and the general public with information about the benefits and risks of medical cannabis.

The application window for that position is closed.

Medical marijuana in Minnesota

Under the terms of the program – signed into law earlier this year – certain patients will be able to use medical marijuana in pill, liquid or vaporized form, but not smoke it. Only those who suffer from eight illnesses, including cancer, HIV/AIDS and glaucoma will qualify. The state provides a lengthy FAQ here.

The department of health provides a list of key dates for the program.

Up next is the first-ever meeting for the task force on medical cannabis research. Gov. Mark Dayton filled out that task force earlier this month with a cross-section of those Minnesotans most impacted by the new law.

By August 1, the commissioner of health must determine whether Minnesota will need an in-state medical cannabis manufacturer – and if that's the case, host a meeting the next week for interested parties. Manufacturer applications will be due in early October, and two manufacturers will be approved and registered by Dec. 1.

Medical cannabis is scheduled to become available to patients on July 1, 2015.

So far more than 20 states plus the District of Columbia have enacted laws permitting people to use medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.

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