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Minnesota OKs medical cannabis for chronic pain, eye disease

Minnesota is expanding the state’s medical marijuana program to include chronic pain and age-related macular degeneration as conditions that can qualify for treatment, state health officials said Monday.

Posted: Dec 2, 2019 12:19 PM
Updated: Dec 2, 2019 8:42 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota is expanding the state’s medical marijuana program to include chronic pain and age-related macular degeneration as conditions that can qualify for treatment, state health officials said Monday.

The state Department of Health also said it would allow more sites where patients can access medical cannabis. The changes take effect in August, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

Minnesota’s medical marijuana program began in 2014. Originally, only nine conditions were on the list, but now it covers such conditions as obstructive sleep apnea, post-traumatic stress disorder and cancer.

Sensible Change Minnesota, a group trying to change marijuana policy in Minnesota, sought the addition of chronic pain. A doctor’s diagnosis of chronic pain will be required. It could be easier to certify than intractable pain, which was added to the program a few years ago.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said the added conditions give more people more ways to deal with debilitating illness.

“The bottom line is that people suffering from these serious conditions may be helped by participating in the program, and we felt it was important to give them the opportunity to seek that relief,” Malcolm said in a statement.

Maren Schroeder, policy director for Sensible Change Minnesota, said doctors have been hesitant to certify intractable pain cases because that carries a specific legal definition by which pain cannot be removed but only managed and other options have failed to achieve results.

“This will give doctors a little more comfort in getting their pain patients into this program as well as helping those patients qualify,” Schroeder said.

Residents petitioned to include the new conditions this summer. Those requests were reviewed by a citizens panel and Health Department staff. Four conditions were rejected: anxiety, insomnia, psoriasis and traumatic brain injury.

As of October, nearly 18,000 patients were certified for the state's medical marijuana program. Minnesota’s program is considered relatively restrictive because patients are not allowed to get marijuana in leaf form or ingest it through smoking.

Pills, vapors, topical ointments and liquid gels had been the only forms people could obtain through licensed manufacturers. Starting next summer, new delivery methods will include water-soluble cannabinoid, such as powders or sprinkles, and products such as lozenges, gums, mints and tablets.

In addition, LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions — the two licensed manufacturers — will be allowed to open a combined eight more centers in Minnesota. The Health Department said the proposed centers are in Blaine, Burnsville, Duluth, Golden Valley, Mankato, Rogers, Willmar and Woodbury.

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