Post-Bulletin of Rochester, Dec. 3

Medical marijuana program to provide needed research

The selection of Rochester as one of Minnesota's eight medical marijuana distribution sites — and the only one south of the Twin Cities — means our region will be at the forefront of research into its medicinal uses.

Minnesota's new Office of Medical Cannabis will gather data from each of the estimated 5,000 people expected to sign up for the patient registry. The research manager will be Dr. Thomas Arneson, a Fairmont native who earned his M.D. from Mayo Medical School after receiving a master's degree in public health from the University of Minnesota and an undergraduate degree from Harvard University.

The state will document the different chemical compounds used by patients, as well as dosages and side effects to build a database of what works best for different conditions and keep track of complications with other medication. While not as rigorous as clinical trials, the database is expected to generate a trove of useful information that could be the impetus for future research by taking a closer look at specific compounds and conditions.

The paradox is that although cannabis has been used as a therapeutic agent in many cultures dating back 5,000 years, there has been little research on its medical efficacy. That's largely because marijuana is classified by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule I substance, which defines it as one of "the most dangerous drugs" with "no currently accepted medical use." Marijuana was placed in the most restrictive category while then-President Richard Nixon commissioned a report to give a final recommendation.??The Schafer Commission, as it was called, concluded marijuana should not be in Schedule I, but Nixon ignored the commission's recommendations, and marijuana has since remained on the most-restricted category.

Even before marijuana was placed on Schedule I, laws were passed without objective information. The Marijuana Tax Act of 1937 effectively banned its use and sales.? That law passed only a year after the release of "Reefer Madness," a propaganda documentary now regarded as one of the worst films ever made.

Passed by the Legislature earlier this year, Minnesota's medical marijuana law doesn't allow smoking or home growing. Two suppliers approved by the state Department of Health — Minnesota Medical Solutions and Leafline Labs — will provide the substance in extract form by July 1, 2015. Minnesota Medical Solutions will grow cannabis in the Minneapolis suburb of Otsego and distribute it in Rochester, Maple Grove, Minneapolis and Moorhead. LeafLine Labs will process cannabis in Cottage Grove and distribute it in Eagan, Hibbing, St. Cloud and St. Paul.

Fortunately, Minnesota legislators listened to the testimony of families whose children have seizure disorders where cannabis is the only effective treatment. The law, one of the most restrictive of the 24 states allowing medical marijuana, limits the number of conditions that can be treated with the drug, such as certain types of cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Tourette's syndrome, Crohn's disease and severe pain cause by a terminal illness.

For anyone fearing an easy gateway to the black market, medical marijuana will be sold in liquid or vapor extracts, nonsmokable forms not conducive for street sales.

The benefits of Minnesota's medical marijuana program goes beyond providing relief for thousands of patients who have no treatment alternative. It will help future patients by providing objective data on the efficacy of medical uses for cannabis.


The Free Press of Mankato, Dec. 3

What's right about low gas prices?

As we benefit from the lowest gas prices in five years, we would do well to recall how we got here.

Gas prices in the Mankato area have been around $2.65 to $2.70 a gallon, and experts say gas prices are the lowest nationally in five years, about 50 cents a gallon lower than a year ago.

The low gas prices didn't just happen, although that seems to sometimes be the best explanation. Gas prices and crude oil prices are ultimately driven by supply and demand. And consumers can at the very least control demand.

That has been the case since 2008 when the Great Recession took hold. Consumers stopped driving as much, they bought lower mileage cars and cut back on buying airline tickets for family vacations. As a result, businesses used less fuel as well.

At the same time, the U.S. expanded its own domestic production of crude oil. Crude oil production in the U.S. is now running at 8.6 million barrels per day, a 60 percent increase from just four years ago, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. More gains are expected in 2015.

Part of the production increase came from an increase in drilling and more efficient drilling as well as new oil fields such as the Bakken fields of North Dakota.

But we've put in place some conservation measures on the demand side as well. The Obama administration set new higher fuel mileage standards for new vehicles a few years ago.

While a worldwide economic slowdown certainly can curtail use of crude oil and refined products, businesses have learned a new energy reality over the last few years. They've learned how to conduct business without using as much fuel.

Whole new industries that advise businesses about how to save energy are popping up. The demand for lower energy costs has become a growth industry. OPEC can't even seem to get together on production quotas anymore.

Consumers have been key to getting lower gas prices and we'll be key to keeping them low. Let's not forget we are in the driver's seat.


Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 1

Expo 2023 is a prize worth seeking for Minnesota

For Minnesota boosters, these are heady times. This year brought Major League Baseball's All-Star Game to Target Field. A Super Bowl is on its way to the new Vikings stadium in 2018; an NCAA Final Four basketball tournament is due a year later.

Will a scaled-down type of World's Fair be next, in 2023?

Even to the Star Tribune Editorial Board's ardent Minnesota promoters, the idea of hosting Expo 2023 — a smaller, three-month version of the World's Fairs staged every five years — seemed far-fetched at first. But with imaginations fired by the expo's working theme, "Healthy People, Healthy Planet: Wellness and Well-Being for All," the prospect is gaining plausibility and enthusiasm.

That sense was intensified last week by word that Washington-based Nature Conservancy chief operating officer Lois Quam, who also has executive service at UnitedHealth Group and the U.S. State Department to her credit, has signed on as the Minnesota bid's national co-chair.

"I think bringing this fair to Minnesota is very important," Quam said. "The more I've traveled, the more I recognize how special Minnesota is. Minnesota has something to offer and demonstrate to the world about striving to be the best and working hard to find new ways to do better."

Quam joins a top-flight advisory committee led by Mark Ritchie, soon to be Minnesota's former secretary of state, that is preparing a bid for presentation next June to the Bureau of International Expositions in Paris. Minnesotans of stature and experience are on board, including three honorary co-chairs, former Vice President Walter Mondale, former Gov. Arne Carlson and Carlson Co. former chair Marilyn Carlson Nelson. Corporate backers include Ecolab and Hubbard Broadcasting. The public relations wizards at Tunheim who prepared Minnesota's successful Super Bowl bid are working on this assignment, as are business planners at the University of Minnesota's Carlson School of Management.

The assignment has a peculiar twist. It must overcome the fact that the United States is not now eligible to host either a world's fair, which occur at the start and the middle of each decade, or an expo, staged between fairs. That's because in 2001, the United States withdrew from the 168-nation bureau that organizes these events. This country has not hosted a fair or expo since New Orleans was the site of the Louisiana World Exposition in 1984.

Fortunately, Minnesotans are not the only Americans who are seeking to be hosts once more. Groups in Houston and San Francisco aspire to host full-blown world's fairs, and they have thrown in with Ritchie's group to raise money and rally support in Washington toward that end.

Also, fortunately for Minnesota, it is to date the world's only prospective bidder for Expo 2023. Other early contenders have dropped out. Rumored competition from Lodz, Poland, didn't materialize at last week's bureau meeting in Paris, where considerable interest was expressed in Minnesota's emerging bid. The 2023 site will be announced in June 2016, a year after the official pitch is made.

This is a prize well worth pursuing, and not just because of the estimated 12 million visitors and $4 billion in foreign tourism spending that Expo 2023 is projected to bring to Minnesota between mid-May and mid-August that year. Expos are international showcases for innovation — in this case, focusing on one of Minnesota's signature industries. This state has much to show and much to gain from the exchange of ideas that the exposition will feature.

A Minnesota Expo also would likely boost investment in infrastructure that would serve this state long after 2023. A glimmer in planners' eyes is a privately financed high-speed rail link between Rochester and the Twin Cities. A new venue for events near the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is a strong possibility.

Planners say they will rely on private financing and volunteer support to pull off Expo 2023, though they say they are grateful for supportive comments from both outgoing DFL House Speaker Paul Thissen and incoming GOP Speaker Kurt Daudt. Other elected officials would do well to learn about the bid. Some of the infrastructure improvements that would enhance an Expo would seem to be the public sector's rightful responsibility.

This effort also will continue the buildup of Minnesota's civic hospitality muscles, which had grown soft after the 1992 Super Bowl and Final Four but then began to flex again with the arrival of the Republican National Convention in 2008. Minnesota is at its best when its people collaborate on a common endeavor. Expo 2023 may still be years away, but along with the Super Bowl, Final Four and other big events on the horizon, it is already adding to Minnesota's capacity to perform on a global stage.