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Moorhead parents ‘willing to try anything,’ open to new Minnesota medical marijuana law

Amber and Paul Solum, seen Tuesday in Moorhead with their daughter Sophia, 6, and son Brett, 13, have been told that medical marijuana could help Brett control his epileptic seizures. Forum News Service

MOORHEAD — Brett Solum might be one of the first to obtain medical marijuana under a new Minnesota law slated to take effect next year.

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The 13-year-old boy suffers from uncontrollable epileptic seizures, as many as 100 a day.

His doctors have implanted a device, recommended special diets and prescribed multiple medications. All have failed to provide relief.

Under the new law, which will take effect July 1, 2015, eligible patients will gain access to medical marijuana in the form of plant extracts, liquid, pills or vapor, but not in a form that can be smoked.

“I can’t deny my son the opportunity to try,” said Amber Solum, whose son attends Horizon Middle School in Moorhead. “As long as it’s not in a smoking form, I’m OK with it. I think at this point we’re willing to try anything.”

The Solums learned their son had epilepsy when he was 5 and had his first known seizure. Before then, he had fallen a number of times, but his parents attributed that to clumsiness.

“It was pretty much every time he blinked he was seizing,” Amber said, recalling the episode and emergency room visit that led to his diagnosis.

His team of neurologists at Mayo Clinic in Rochester regards him as a “prime candidate” for the patient registry under the new medical marijuana law, the result of a compromise struck last week in the Minnesota Legislature. Gov. Mark Dayton has said he looks forward to signing the bill.

Medical marijuana will become available in Minnesota for patients with qualifying illnesses, including cancer with severe or chronic pain or nausea, glaucoma, seizures, Crohn’s disease, severe muscle spasm, terminal illness and severe wasting.

Some patients have been able to control otherwise uncontrollable seizures with medical marijuana, and the Solums hope it will work for their son.

“He’s a pretty normal 13-year-old,” Amber Solum said. “He likes to play outside. He has friends. He’s in a bowling league.”

But he can’t ride a bicycle because he could get injured in the event of a seizure, and requires assistance when showering to guard against a possible fall.

Meanwhile, Steve Zaiser finds himself on the wrong side of the Red River when it comes to gaining access to medical marijuana under the new law.

The 63-year-old Fargo man has suffered from chronic, debilitating pain he believes might be helped by medical marijuana therapy.

But the law expressly applies only to Minnesota residents, so any border-city residents who hoped they might be able to cross the river to obtain a prescription appear to be out of luck.

“‘Patient’ means a Minnesota resident who has been diagnosed with a qualifying medical condition,” according to language in the bill.

Although Zaiser has no plans to move to Minnesota, that could be an option someday, he said.

“It’s certainly within the realm of possibility,” Zaiser said. “It certainly presents a lot of attractive alternatives.”

Following a stroke that impaired his thalamus, Zaiser developed a stubborn condition called central pain syndrome. He takes narcotic painkillers, but the results are poor, with harmful side effects.

“It’s extraordinarily painful,” Zaiser said. “It’s an ugly disease.”

He once tried smoking marijuana for relief, but found the results unsatisfactory, and would like the option of using the medicinal forms for pain relief.

Zaiser, a state representative whose term ends in November, was involved in a 2012 ballot drive to place medical marijuana before North Dakota voters; that effort was derailed by signature fraud by hired petition circulators.

He never introduced a medical marijuana bill in the North Dakota Legislature because he believes it has no chance of winning passage.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota measure was carefully drafted to prevent abuse.

Besides not allowing medical marijuana in leaf form, the measure tries to ensure some uniformity by limiting manufacturers and distributors.

“It may be the narrowest interpretation of medical marijuana in the country,” said Dr. Dave Thorson, chairman of the Minnesota Medical Association, which represents physicians.

The Minnesota Medical Association took a neutral stance regarding the compromise bill, deciding not to oppose the measure because it removed physicians from recommending or prescribing a controlled substance and establishes a registry that will gather clinical data.

“Our doctors will be watching with close interest” once the law takes effect and clinical data are collected, including observations, said Dan Hauser, a spokesman for the doctors’ group.

The Minnesota Medical Association has urged the federal government to review marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance, with the goal of helping clinical studies and public health research as well as development of cannabinoid-based medicines.

Until marijuana is approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration, the Minnesota doctors group said it cannot support legislation that involves physicians in “certifying, authorizing, or otherwise directing persons in the area of medicinal marijuana outside of scientific clinical trials.”

Basics of MN medical marijuana law:

  • Minnesotans seeking approval to use marijuana for medical treatment must receive certification of their condition from a doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.
  • After patients apply for acceptance, Minnesota’s health commissioner will enroll eligible patients in a registry and issue verification.
  • Minnesotans with registry verification can get medical marijuana at authorized distribution centers set up by the state. Patients must agree to continue treatment, and their provider must provide regular reports about patient outcomes and response to treatment.