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Minnesota governor signs medical marijuana bill into law

By David Bailey

MINNEAPOLIS (Reuters) - Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton on Thursday signed into law a bill legalizing medical marijuana in liquid or pill form for a limited number of residents suffering from severe or fatal illnesses.

With Dayton's signature, Minnesota joins more than 20 U.S. states that have approved medical marijuana and cannabis programs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

"I pray it will bring to the victims of ravaging illnesses the relief they are hoping for," Dayton said in a statement.

Minnesota lawmakers earlier in May approved the measure on bipartisan votes and the law calls for medical cannabis to be distributed in the state, starting by July 1, 2015.

Opponents of the bill had expressed concern it could lead to wider use of the drug, particularly among children, and would serve as a first step toward legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Minnesota.

Colorado and Washington state originally approved marijuana for medical uses before legalizing recreational use of the drug and other states also are considering legislation.

Some supporters objected to the Minnesota law's limits on the number of conditions covered, its prohibition on use of the marijuana leaf and a ban on smoking cannabis.

About 5,000 patients could apply to the state to enroll in the program, though enrollment is not capped and Minnesota will collect data on their response to the drug, the state health department has said.

The conditions covered include cancer; seizures including epilepsy; glaucoma; multiple sclerosis and other disorders that cause severe muscle spasms; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; HIV; AIDS; and Crohn's disease.

(Reporting by David Bailey; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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