Anticipating huge demand, one of the two companies approved to grow medical marijuana for Minnesotans is planning an $8 million expansion – even though the drug doesn't go on sale until July 1.
MPR reports Minnesota Medical Solutions announced it will build a new growing and manufacturing facility in Otsego, which at 218,000 square feet will be eight times bigger than its current greenhouse next door.
Company founder Dr. Kyle Kingsley told MPR that behind the expansion, set to be completed by March 2016, is the belief that there will be a "big demand" for Cannabidiol, a marijuana compound used to treat conditions such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis.
It comes as the state gears up for the legalization of the drug for medical use in just over two weeks. Interest in the drug is expected to – eventually – be high, even though enrollment numbers do not suggest that so far.
As of Monday, only eight patients have made it onto the Minnesota medical marijuana registry so far, while only 54 doctors are registered to authorize marijuana prescriptions, out of 104 applications that were submitted.
But Manny Munson-Regala, of the Minnesota Department of Health, told WCCO: "We would expect that over time, what we’ve seen in other states is what we call the hockey stick enrollment – kind of flat in the beginning, and then ramping up as providers get comfortable with the program."
Munson-Regala, the assistant commissioner at the department who was "instrumental" in getting the state's marijuana program off the ground, is leaving his position to become the CEO of LeafLine – the other approved cannabis manufacturer in Minnesota, the Associated Press reports.
Lack of doctor sign-ups cause frustration for patients
There are signs that interest in the marijuana program is wide in spite of the low number of patient registrations thus far, with the Star Tribune reporting there are many patients who are looking to sign up for marijuana treatment, but can't find a doctor certified to prescribe it.
Only about 10 percent of Minnesotan doctors indicated they intend to register so they can prescribe medical marijuana. And one problem facing prospective patients: The Minnesota Department of Health has not released the names of doctors who actually have been approved.
This prompted some patients to put ads on Craigslist to find a doctor who would take a look at their case.
This lack of take-up from doctors and uncertainty over who is registered has seen companies based outside of Minnesota try to set up shop in the state to help people get signed up , the Pioneer Press reports.
State regulations stipulate that patients can only be certified for medical marijuana by doctors with whom they have a medical history. But since many patients will have doctors who aren't taking part in the program, a new business called The Minnesota Certification Clinic was set up in Bloomington by New York-based MarijuanaDoctors.com.
The idea was to route Minnesotans hoping to try medical marijuana to clinics "friendly to the new medication," the newspaper notes, but the clinic was suspended this week by the Department of Health for clashing with said state regulations.