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July shows big jump in number of patients approved for medical marijuana

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Through one month of registration, only 98 Minnesotans had been approved for medical marijuana.

Over the next 15 days that number nearly doubled, with the latest Minnesota Department of Health figures showing 183 patients have completed all the required registration work and can pick up their prescription.

The numbers (which are updated and released every Friday morning) also show a significant spike in the number of patients certified by a practitioner as having one of the nine qualifying medical conditions for the program. There are currently 340 certified patients – up from 276 one week ago.

Here's a graph showing how many patients were certified by a doctor and approved through July 1, the day medical marijuana became legal – and how much those numbers have increased in the two weekly updates since (through July 9 and July 16).

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Michelle Larson, director of the state Office of Medical Cannabis, told the Star Tribune the rise from July 1-9 was "probably the largest jump" they'd had in patient enrollment up to this point.

The number of practitioners authorized to certify patients also jumped in the past week, from 265 to 298. And there are now 15 caregivers OK'd to assist patients, a small jump from 11 as of last week.

MinnMed and LeafLine Labs – the state’s two licensed medical marijuana manufacturers – each opened their first patient clinics July 1 in Minneapolis and Eagan respectively, and in the coming months they will open three more apiece. Eventually the state will have eight patient cannabis centers located around the state.

KAAL reports MinnMed will open the Rochester dispensary next week.

Hiring of state officials raises questions

While the program sees a sharp rise in interest, one state lawmaker is troubled by the number of current or former state officials who had a role in making medical marijuana legal – and are now involved with LeafLine Labs.

WCCO's Pat Kessler reports former legislative attorney and analyst Jamie Olson is now LeafLine's counsel and compliance officer (a change also reflected on her LinkedIn page). Olson helped write the medical cannabis law in 2014, Kessler says.

She's the third state official to join LeafLine Labs.

That prompted Sen. David Hann to propose a commission that would look at Minnesota's conflict of interest and ethics laws, WCCO says in a separate story.

Hann, the Republican minority leader, was one of 16 senators who voted against the final medical marijuana bill during the 2014 legislative session.

Who else went to LeafLine?

Earlier this week, State Rep. Dan Schoen – a co-sponsor of the medical cannabis law – announced he's going to work as a part-time paid consultant for LeafLine, the South Washington County Bulletin reported.

Schoen said he won’t be doing any lobbying or government relations work for the company, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press., and will decided on a case-by-case basis whether he needs to abstain from voting on medical marijuana-related measures.

And just a few weeks earlier, LeafLine hired a state Department of Health official, Manny Munson-Regala, to become its CEO. Munson-Regala was in charge of the state’s Office of Medical Cannabis.

LeafLine declined to comment when asked by WCCO.

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