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Marijuana conference

Etrheim Kari.jpg
Kari Etrheim
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Kari Etrheim and six of her colleagues from Olmsted County Public Health were among the dozens who attended Minnesota's inaugural medicinal marijuana conference Tuesday at the Mayo Civic Center.

It's the second such conference Etrheim has attended in 2015, as local medical professionals scramble for knowledge on the controversial issue. Minnesota became the 22nd state to allow medicinal marijuana over the summer, but enrollment has been slow due to the most restrictive conditions in the country and, some say, doctors who have been reluctant to embrace non-traditional treatments.

Etrheim previously traveled to Ohio for a two-day conference in March, where she heard a largely negative review of medicinal marijuana. Sensible Minnesota's conference was on the other end of the spectrum. It featured prominent supporters of the emerging industry, such as John Marshall grad Payton Curry, CEO of Curryosity Consulting and Green Heart Foundation.

Etrheim, the local health education manager, said it's important to listen to all sides while becoming familiar with the content. Tentative plans are already being made to host another conference in Rochester in hopes of drawing a crowd of 500, or an eight-fold increase from Tuesday's session.

"There's an ugly side to marijuana abuse and there's a potential positive side," Etrheim said. "We're trying to figure out how to balance that. As a health department, we want to be informed and helpful to the process.


"We'd be remiss if we weren't here."

The county's public health department appears to be the most aggressive local entity pursuing such knowledge. Mayo Clinic was criticized by some in the crowd for being "uninformed" on medicinal marijuana. Lutsen resident J.D. Lehr also says that the American Cancer Society's Hope Lodge, where he's staying during cancer treatments at Mayo, was unable to answer his questions about medicinal marijuana.

"I've been unable to find anyone who supports it, and they're all very uninformed," Lehr said of Mayo and Hope Lodge.

It's unclear if Mayo Clinic had any representatives at Tuesday's conference. Sensible Minnesota's Maren Schroeder said her press release wasn't issued in time to be included in Mayo's internal newsletter, which could have impacted attendance.

However, Curry isn't so sure. One of the country's most vocal medicinal marijuana advocates says he's been stonewalled by Mayo Clinic's facility in Arizona.

"The Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Az., never answers this knock from us," said Curry, a '98 JM grad who is an award-winning cannabis chef. "They don't want to. They want to fight medicinal marijuana."

Mayo Clinic issued the following statement Tuesday evening: "The Minnesota Medical Cannabis Program is a voluntary program for eligible health care providers. It is each providers' decision whether to participate in the program. Mayo does have a policy to assist those providers who choose to participate in the program. Patients should talk with their health care provider to see what treatment options are available for their condition."

The locals aren't the only ones struggling with how best to use or implement medicinal marijuana. In fact, DEA acting administrator Chuck Rosenberg recently created waves by calling medicinal marijuana a "joke."


At Tuesday's conference, Sensible Minnesota president Brandon Borgos led a session that defined how long-standing federal marijuana laws are now in conflict with many new state laws. He also characterized the Obama administration's handling of marijuana enforcement as "schizophrenic."

"We've got a serious conundrum in state and federal law," said Borgos, a metro attorney.

Curry met Monday with Minnesota state officials to discuss how it can improve its new medicinal marijuana program. His development of marijuana-based tinctures, salves and oils that remove the psychoactive agents have proven popular and effective in Arizona, where his company has actually partnered with the state's epilepsy foundation.

Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger is currently considering whether to expand the state program to cover intractable pain. A decision is expected by the end of 2015. About 600 people are currently enrolled in the program, but the proposed change would make thousands more eligible.

A panel of health experts recently recommended rejecting the controversial proposal by a 5-3 vote due to concerns about abuse, but a three-hour public forum in West St. Paul held earlier this month found unanimous support from citizens. Sensible Minnesota hopes to eventually expand the program to cover veterans with PTSD, Curry said.

It's an emotional topic for Curry, who said he battled alcoholism and depression while being treated by "harmaceuticals." He hit rock bottom after ballooning to around 300 pounds and blowing a .44 BAC six years ago. That incident prompted him to fully embrace non-traditional medication and create Curryosity Consulting.

Now sober, Curry hopes Minnesota will open the door for others to follow his lead.

"It's hard for me to come into some of these states and just not shake my head," Curry said. "I've seen it (work).


"I'm in Minnesota, but I feel like I'm in a different country. I'm in the United States of America that's divided over a vegetable."

Payton Curry

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