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Political Notebook: Time to expand medical pot program?

Efforts are underway to expand the state's medical marijuana program a year after it launched.

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Efforts are underway to expand the state's medical marijuana program a year after it launched.

Individuals have until July 31 to petition the Minnesota Department of Health to add a qualifying condition for medical marijuana. Maren Schroeder plans to file a petition requesting individuals with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to eligible to buy medical cannabis. She is vice president of Sensible Minnesota , a a volunteer group that works to educate patients on cannabis.

"We're hoping to expand (the qualifying conditions). I've heard from other patients and caregivers of other conditions that they may pursue in this petitioning process," said Schroeder, of Stewartville.

There are currently nine qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, including cancer, multiple sclerosis and epileptic seizures. A tenth condition will be added on Aug. 1 — intractable pain. Before patients can get the medication, they must first be certified as having one of the qualifying conditions by a physician, physician assistant or advanced practice registered nurse. State law prohibits the smoking of medical marijuana. Instead, it must be provided in pill, liquid or oil form.

Michelle Larson, director of the health department's Office of Medical Cannabis, said the health commissioner has the authority to add conditions to the program. The Minnesota Legislature will also have a chance to review any changes he proposes in the 2017 legislative session. As of last week, only one petition had been received seeking to add diabetes to the list of qualifying conditions.


Minnesota Medical Solutions CEO Dr. Kyle Kinglsey said he would like to see Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder added to the list of qualifying conditions, Kingsley, a veteran, said he thinks cannabis could be helpful for people struggle with this condition.

"I'm very open minded with the limited downside of cannabis to helping folks like vets that are still committing suicide at a rate of 22 per day in the U.S. It's just something that there's little downside in us providing this opportunity to us vets and other folks suffering from PTSD," Kingsley said.

Minnesota Medical Solutions runs four marijuana dispensaries in the state, including one in Rochester.

Individuals can also petition the health department to consider other delivery methods for medical cannabis. Schroeder said Sensible Minnesota is supporting a petition to allow whole plant as an ingestion method. It could be vaporized or juiced.

Lawmakers weigh in

Local legislators disagree over whether it's time to make significant changes to the state's medical marijuana program.

Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said he hasn't heard many complaints about the program. He said it's important Minnesota moves ahead slowly.

"I think we've gone into it at the right speed. We're not going to hurry into it and all of a sudden be legalizing marijuana with my vote," Senjem said.


The Rochester Republican said he has no problem making medical cannabis available to people who are suffering, such as cancer patients. But he said he is wary of the program being expended too broadly.

"I just think we have to be careful about adding every little malady that people may allege to have. Cannabis is not the answer for all of these," Senjem said.

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, said the current program is too expensive and hard for patients to access.

"Medical marijuana should be more widely available to people at less cost because I think for many people, it's really helpful and the harm is so much less than other things they could be using," she said.

Another concern is the limited number of health care providers willing to certify patients for the program. A total of 579 health care providers statewide have registered to certify patients.

Liebling added, "Change takes time, and I think the medical community wants to have some evidence. There still hasn't been a lot of research."

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