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With big decision looming, medical marijuana program still on schedule

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Minnesota's first-ever medical cannabis manufacturers were expected to be selected by Dec. 1 – and that decision is still on schedule.

At a Thursday meeting the Department of Health's assistant commissioner told the medical marijuana task force everything is on track, and the two manufacturers will be selected by the December deadline "unless something remarkably unforeseen occurs," KSTP reports.

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The 23-member Task Force on Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research was created in July to investigate the medical impact of the drug.

In all, 12 businesses officially applied for the manufacturing job (with about 29 initially showing interest).

To apply, applicants were required to pay a non-refundable $20,000 application fee, as outlined in the application Q&A. The final two manufacturers ultimately selected will then be on the hook for an annual fee to cover the costs of the state monitoring the program, which could range from $75,000-$100,000.

There are also, as the Pioneer Press noted, investments that will need to be made in facilities, machinery, and the process of turning the plant into a legal medicine (since the law does not allow the plant to be smoked in leaf form, but rather ingested as a pill or oil).

The two chosen manufacturers will each have four distribution sites across the state, so cities are now tasked with considering potential plans for a marijuana production facility.

Cottage Grove gave the OK in September, and Bemidji began looking at a proposal.

Northland's NewsCenter spoke with the director of the Office of Medical Cannabis, Michelle Larson, a longtime Department of Health staffer who in July was tapped to oversee the program.

Larson – a University of Wisconsin, Superior, graduate who has spent much of her time working in greater Minnesota – told the station creating an effective patient registry and selecting two manufacturers for medical cannabis fits here career pattern of taking on new projects.

KSTP reports Thursday's meeting also included discussion about the legal ramifications of the program – marijuana is still technically illegal under federal law, but the Attorney General's Office has not taken action against states that approved a legal cannabis law.

Advocates also spoke at the meeting, the stations says.

Gov. Mark Dayton signed the medical marijuana bill into law in May, which makes it legal for an estimated 5,000 Minnesotans with certain medical conditions to be eligible to purchase the drug from approved manufacturers in the state.

See a full timeline of the medical marijuana program rollout here.

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