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As patients get first medical marijuana doses, officials look to the future

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Medical marijuana has been legal in Minnesota for a little more than a day and already lawmakers and advocates are looking to the future of the program.

In the first month of the program, 98 patients have been approved to get the drug at one of two patient clinics that opened Wednesday – the day the drug became legal in the state – according to figures released by the state Department of Health Thursday morning.

More than 30 families picked up medical marijuana prescriptions in the first day, the Pioneer Press reports, as the clinics saw a "steady trickle" of patients who showed up by appointment to get their medication.

“Qualified patients now can receive cannabis medications in a controlled, healthcare-like environment, and Minnesota is poised to be a research leader as we expand our understanding of how various medical cannabis formulations may help patients with qualifying conditions," Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger said in a news release Wednesday.

Expanding the program

On the first day of the program there was already talk about expanding it to add more conditions that would help qualify more patients for the program.

Gov. Mark Dayton said at a news conference Wednesday that he may consider supporting the addition of chronic pain to the list of qualifying conditions if people can medically benefit from the drug, the Pioneer Press notes.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt also spoke about the program, saying the 2016 Legislature will likely see bills seeking to expand it, but he noted that the state has to give the new law a chance to work before changing it, the newspaper adds.

Patrick McClellan – a patient-advocate for Minnesotans for Compassionate Care who was one of the first people to pick up a legal dose of medical marijuana – joined other advocates in describing Wednesday as "a huge day for Minnesota," but also noted they need to continue their fight in order to get more people qualified for the medication, according to Forum News Service.

McClellan is among those who are hoping Minnesota's medical marijuana program – one of the strictest in the nation – will become a model for health insurance companies so they'll eventually cover the cost of the medication.

Currently, eligible patients have to pay hundreds of dollars a month in out-of-pocket costs for the prescriptions because Minnesota health insurance companies do not cover medical cannabis, MDH notes.

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

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