Patients in Minnesota who suffer from chronic pain will have to wait at least another year before they can get access to medical marijuana.

Minnesota MarijuanaThe state Department of Health announced on February that agency officials would delay a decision on whether to expand Minnesota’s young medical weed program. They will wait until December, at the very earliest, before making a decision.

The first pot is expected to be available later this year. Initially, the list of qualifying diseases didn’t include chronic pain, although weed’s efficacy as a painkiller is relatively well established. Advocacy groups had asked the state to reconsider the listings.

The delay means weed won’t be available to pain patients until at least August 2016. And officials could hold off on any decision until as late as July of that year, meaning an even longer wait for medicine.

“I don’t see why we need to wait that long,” said state Sen. Branden Peterssen, a Republican. “If we acted this session, we could do something that would serve the interests of those patients a lot sooner.”

Minn. adopted MMJ in 2014

Lawmakers adopted a medical marijuana program last year, making Minnesota the 23rd state to do so. Unlike every other state with MMJ except New York, Minnesota’s program bans cannabis smoking; the drug must be vaporized or swallowed.

medical marijuana in bottleThe conditions currently covered by the new law include diseases such as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma. The list is shorter than in most other states with medical weed, though it is likely to expand in coming years.

The health department now plans to convene a new panel that will meet in the spring and deliver a recommendation to Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger in December. If the group recommends that pain be added to the list, Ehlinger would have to approve the recommendation by Jan. 15 in order for the medicine to reach patients by August 2016.

Lawmakers would then tweak the current law to allow for chronic pain coverage.

Relief coming to chronic pain patients

That could mean a great relief for many patients. Pain is the leading reason people use medical marijuana. It’s believed to be a highly effective treatment for numerous types of pain, from body aches to migraines.

In Colorado, for example, 90 percent of MMJ patients list pain as their qualifying condition. That may be in part because some people are lying to get cheap weed (color us shocked, shocked that anyone would do such a thing). But it’s also probably because pain is so widespread and because weed helps relieve it.

Minnesota state officials expect to enroll about 5,000 patients in the medical marijuana program. Manny Munson-Regala, the assistant health commissioner in charge of the system, said the numbers could explode if pain is added. Nearly 90,000 Minnesotans receive medical treatment for chronic pain.

That, Munson-Regala said, is one of the reasons officials wanted to wait on a decision.

Officials “didn’t see a way to do this in a thoughtful, structured way” in the short time left, he said.


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