With the news of the “compromise” (read: “do what law enforcement wants or you’ll get nothing!”) on medical marijuana legislation in Minnesota, many marijuana law reformers are debating whether or not this will make the Gopher State the 22nd “medical marijuana state” (including DC).

The long-story-short of the situation is that the governor has been adamant about not signing any medical marijuana bill that law enforcement wouldn’t support. Law enforcement, of course, wouldn’t support any medical marijuana bill until it was practically unworkable. Trying to appease law enforcement, the Senate passed a restrictive medical marijuana bill and the House passed an incredibly restrictive medical marijuana bill (read more in “Cops Cripple Minnesota and Louisiana Medical Marijuana Bills” and “6 Demands on Medical Marijuana by Minn. Cops”.)

Besides paring the Senate’s 55 dispensaries down to three, dropping the Senate’s coverage for pain, nausea, wasting, brain trauma and PTSD, and both houses banning home grow, this “compromise” legislation sets Minnesota up to be the first “medical marijuana state” to not only ban marijuana smoking, but any use of the marijuana plant in raw form, period. Patients will only be able to buy edibles, pills, tinctures, and oils from the three state dispensaries.

So that brings up the question: does a state that doesn’t allow use of the raw cannabis plant count as a “medical marijuana state”?

The question is compounded by the recent addition of states like Utah, Kentucky and Alabama passing laws only allow the use of cannabis extracts high in CBD and low in THC. Steve Bloom at Celebstoner posed the question as to whether those states counted as “medical marijuana states.” Most reformers in cyberspace offered a resounding “no” -- a state that only allows one cannabinoid and not whole plant access isn’t a “medical marijuana state.” Karen O’Keefe from Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) even offered that CBD-only states aren’t “medical marijuana states” for the same reason all fifty states aren’t “medical marijuana states” because you can legally get Marinol (synthetic THC pills) under federal law.

OK, so a state providing the cannabinoid THC in a pill and forbidding plant access isn’t a “medical marijuana state.” A state providing the cannabinoid CBD in an oil and forbidding plant access isn’t a “medical marijuana state.” But in Minnesota, they will provide all the cannabinoids in pills and oils made from whole plant extract and forbid plant access… so is it a “medical marijuana state”?

Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority posed the question on his Facebook page and many reform organization staffers had interesting positions.  

Karen O’Keefe of MPP wrote, “We plan to count it as a medical marijuana state. It includes access and protection from arrest and doesn't limit it to specific strains. … It is pretty close to needing its own category, though.”

Paul Armentano of NORML wrote, “It really isn't even a medical cannabis bill since it only allows for patients to access specific preparations of cannabis-infused products (oils/pills), and not the actual plant itself.”

Bill Piper of Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) wrote, “I'm not sure DPA can count [Minnesota] as a [medical marijuana] state. We may treat it like we treated [Maryland], mentioning it but not including it in the official tally.”

Personally, I don’t even like to count states that forbid home marijuana growing as a “medical marijuana state,” so you know where I stand on this question. The miraculous revolution of medical marijuana isn’t that it has cannabinoids that have medical utility. If that were so, then medical marijuana leads eventually to pharmaceutical preparations of exacting dose, potency, and cannabinoid ratios. That’s Kevin Sabet’s and GW Pharmaceuticals’ brand of medical marijuana.

No, the miraculous revolution of medical marijuana is that humans can treat themselves with nature and can seriously reduce or eliminate their dependence on doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, and drug companies. That revolution was stopped in 2010 when, in the search of a “win,” MPP decided Arizona’s patients who live close enough to drive to a dispensary were forbidden from growing their medicine, so that there would be a “viable market” for those dispensaries. Since then, there hasn’t been a state that has allowed all patients to home grow and every program since then has become increasingly restrictive.

This is the Medical Marijuana Box Canyon theory coming true. If you fight only for medical marijuana, you’ll get marijuana that’s only medical. It’s the inevitable realization by our opponents that they have lost the public relations battle on medical marijuana, so they have adopted our political hostage-taking tactics to craft the laws they want, and to get the benefit of easing political heat over sick people protesting in the statehouse. Where once we wheeled in the disabled cancer patients and dared legislators to choose prohibition over compassion, law enforcement now chips away at medical marijuana and dares us to choose principle that helps no patients over compromise that helps a few.