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Medical marijuana in Minnesota: A 6-month checkup

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It's been six months since Minnesota's medical marijuana program began, and several patients who've been prescribed the drug said Monday their lives have dramatically improved since then.

At the same time, the program hasn't enrolled nearly as many people as was predicted before it opened. So far, 847 patients have registered to use medical cannabis; the state had expected a few thousand to be enrolled at this point.

But that number is expected to increase significantly as of Aug. 1, 2016, when patients with intractable pain will be able to receive medical cannabis to treat their condition.

The five patients who spoke Monday use medical marijuana to treat a variety of conditions, from muscle spasms to Crohn's disease to cancer. And they all said the medicine has brought them significant relief.

Jess Blake of Duluth, who has a brain tumor, said her disease was making it difficult for her to function and manage her own affairs. But since she's been using medical cannabis, the Forum News Service reports, Blake said she can live a more normal life. 

“Now, I can take care of my dog, which is great,” she said.

Others said medical marijuana has replaced other prescription drugs which have more severe side effects.

About the program

Minnesota’s medical marijuana program is considered one of the strictest in the country. It only allows the drug to be dispensed to patients in liquid or pill form – it can’t be smoked. And it can only be prescribed to treat one of the following qualifying conditions:

  • Cancer – if you also have severe or chronic pain, nausea, severe vomiting or severe wasting, or you have a life expectancy of 1 year or less
  • Glaucoma
  • HIV/AIDS
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS)
  • Seizures, including those characteristic of epilepsy
  • Severe and persistent muscle spasms, including those characteristic of multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Terminal illness with a probable life expectancy of less than one year
  • Intractable pain (as of Aug. 1, 2016)

Health insurance does not cover medical cannabis, and the out-of-pocket cost can be several hundred dollars a month.

MinnMed and LeafLine Labs, the two medical cannabis manufacturers in Minnesota, say one key to lowering those high costs is to add more patients, according to WCCO.

MinnMed has two clinics open in the state, and LeafLine has one. They expect to open a total of five additional clinics in communities around the state within the next six months.

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