Although the fight to legalize medical marijuana in Minnesota is over, the battle to get the drug into the hands of qualifying patients has only begun.
Sensible Minnesotais a new volunteer group serving Rochester and the Twin Cities, and it takes a grassroots approach of providing public education to medical marijuana patients, rather than lobbying legislators.
"While watching the public discourse in the House and Senate, we realized that we really needed public education because there was a lack of understanding about the dangers, abuses and other states' programs," said Brandan Borgos, president and co-founder of Sensible Minnesota.
The group started in February and has been compiling research to create a database of relevant studies, recording relevant implementation hearings and filing Data Practice Act requests, leveraging social media to share information and developing a patient advocacy program.
One thing the group won't be doing is keeping a list of doctors who are enrolled in the program to certify patients.
"The Department of Health doesn't keep a list because they don't want people 'doctor shopping.' They don't keep a list, and they won't," said Sensible Minnesota co-founder and treasurer Maren Schroeder, of Stewartville.
Since participating in the program is optional for physicians, some patients with qualifying conditions aren't able to get medical marijuanafrom their regular doctors. Since there isn't a database of doctors, there aren't resources to find another doctor who is authorized to certify patients.
Sensible Minnesota is walking the line by creating a social media page where patients can share information without creating a database.
"We facilitate conversation, where patients that do have the resources can share if they want," Schroeder said. "Facilitation is our role."
As of July 3, the Minnesota Department of Healthsays there are 232 doctors authorized to certify patients. So far, only 192 patients have been certified by their doctors, and only 98 of those are actually registered to pick up medical marijuana for treatment. Borgos said the beginning of the program has been "more like a rollout than a launch."
In early June, the Sensible Minnesota team noticed that eligible patients weren't getting certified to receive medical marijuana for their conditions. An appointment with Schroeder's mother, Kathryn, inspired a new patient advocacy program that is expected to be producing trained advocates by Sept. 1.
Kathryn Schroeder's doctor initially was not planning on enrolling to certify patients, but after speaking with Maren Schroeder, who was experienced in medical marijuana advocacy, the doctor enrolled and had Kathryn certified within 15 minutes. Schroeder has glaucoma and multiple sclerosis — two conditions that make her eligible for medical marijuana.
After being certified, Kathryn drove from her Stewartville home to the Minnesota Medical Solutionsdispensary in Minneapolis, and after an hour of questions and paperwork about her medical history, she was registered to pick up her medical marijuana. The capsules cost her about $95 per month.
"Once I was approved by my doctor, the process went quickly and was well organized. ... It will be a lot more convenient when the Rochester dispensary opens so I won't have to drive up to Minneapolis," Kathryn said.
Her mother's success inspired Maren Schroeder to develop an advocacy program that will train individuals to help patients work through the certification process. While the program's training materials are being developed now, Maren Schroeder anticipates a six to eight hour training session and a background check to be part of the process to become an advocate.
Borgos voiced hopes that Sensible Minnesota, though in its beginning stages serving the Twin Cities and Rochester areas, will serve eligible patients statewide. Rochester made sense, he noted, because of its concentration of medical professionals in the area.
So far, Borgos said feedback to members of Sensible Minnesota has been positive, apart from opponents to medical marijuana in Minnesota.
Kathryn, the first direct beneficiary of the advocacy assistance provided by her daughter, said she has experienced pain relief.
"There hasn't been a huge improvement, but I'm not in as much pain in the morning. Fireworks aren't going off because it's going so great, but there is a spark, so I'm happy," Kathryn said.