12 businesses apply for Minnesota's medical marijuana program; announcement hoped for December

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota — Twelve businesses applied to grow and cultivate marijuana for the state's new medical marijuana program, but there can only be two.

Friday's deadline kicks off weeks of weeding through each applicant's plans, making site visits and fielding presentations — all behind closed doors. Minnesota's Office of Medical Cannabis hopes to announce its two manufacturers by Dec. 1, but won't release any information about applicants until then.

The applications could be hundreds of pages long, detailing where and how they'll grow marijuana and convert it into pill, liquid or vapor form (the state's new law bans using the plant itself) for the patients suffering a handful of serious conditions who qualify. And each applicant had to lay out stringent security plans for their facilities, provide financial projections and cut a nonrefundable $20,000 check just to be considered.

It's a narrower field than previously expected to get one of the two highly prized contracts — 29 organizations submitted letters of intent to the state last month.

Fearing difficulty of finding enough qualified applicants to grow marijuana for the state — at one time, state officials anticipated as few as five applicants — Minnesota lawmakers built in an escape hatch for the state's Department of Health. The health commissioner can trigger a six-month delay to register two manufacturers.

If all goes smoothly, patients are expected to be able to start getting the medicine in July 2015.

Manufacturers will eventually operate four dispensaries throughout the state — one in each of Minnesota's eight congressional districts. But the state will only require its producers to open one dispensary for the first year after the program launches.

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