Pubdate: Tue, 29 Mar 2016
Source: Minneapolis Star-Tribune (MN)
Copyright: 2016 Star Tribune
Author: Jennifer Brooks


The number of medical marijuana clinics in Minnesota will almost 
triple in the next few months.

That's by design. In fact, it's mandated by state law.

When Minnesota legalized medical cannabis last year, lawmakers set 
some of the most restrictive ground rules in the nation. Minnesota 
would decide who could grow the drug, who could buy it, and in what 
form it could be sold. The state also strictly limited where medical 
marijuana can be sold - just eight storefronts, scattered across the state.

At the time, critics worried that there wouldn't be enough cannabis 
clinics to serve all the patients who might want access to the program.

These days, the main worry is that there won't be enough patients to 
keep the lights on in all eight clinics when they finally do open.

As of last Friday, 1,159 people had enrolled in the state program. 
Minnesota has some of the lowest patient enrollment numbers per 
capita among the 23 states that have legalized medical cannabis.

There are about 0.2 medical marijuana patients for every 1,000 
residents, according to the nonprofit policy site The 
national average is eight patients per 1,000. In Michigan and Maine, 
there are 18 patients for every 1,000 residents. In states such as 
Oregon, Colorado, California and Washington, the average is 19.

Right now, the only legal way to take medical marijuana in Minnesota 
is to be diagnosed with a devastating illnesses - nine conditions 
qualify patients to enroll in Minnesota's program, including cancer 
and seizure disorders. To enroll, patients need a health care 
provider to certify that they have a qualifying condition and they 
can only take cannabis in pill or liquid form.

Smoking the marijuana plant remains illegal under state law.

Although the planners calculated that as many as 5,000 qualifying 
patients might enroll in the program in its early years, it has 
reached barely a fifth of that tally, and the three clinics now 
operating in Minneapolis, Rochester and Eagan have been able to 
easily handle the patient load.

The nine-month-old program has struggled with sluggish enrollment, 
price hikes and doctors and clinics that have been reluctant to 
certify patients to sign up for it.

In August, the program will expand to serve patients diagnosed with 
intractable pain who haven't responded to traditional drugs or 
therapies. It's a move that could bring in tens of thousands of new patients.

But under state law, Minnesota's two cannabis corporations - LeafLine 
Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions - must open five more clinics 
before Aug. 1, whether customers are ready to buy or not.

Both companies have predicted that the addition of pain patients 
should provide a steady stream of customers, which in turn could help 
drive down prices.

MinnMed opened the doors of the state's first clinic in downtown 
Minneapolis at midnight on July 1. Soon after, it opened a second 
care center in Rochester.

Earlier this month, the company led local press on a tour of its 
planned facility in Moorhead, which will open at 104 7th St. S., in a 
former Subway sandwich shop. The company's fourth clinic will open 
somewhere in the western suburbs, although the location has not yet 
been set. Both are expected to open in May or June.

Minnesota's second cannabis clinic opened a few hours after the 
first, in a suburban medical complex in Eagan. On its website, 
LeafLine Labs pledges that storefronts in St. Cloud, St. Paul and 
Hibbing are "coming soon."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom