Minnesota enacted one of the strictest medical marijuana programs in the country, and despite pleas from residents, experts Wednesday voted against expanding the list of conditions that qualify for cannabis prescriptions. A state advisory panel voted against recognizing chronic pain as a qualifying condition.
Some have called the state's policy the "most needlessly strict state marijuana legalization law in the country" and say lawmakers "neutered it to the point of irrelevance." Currently, only 662 Minnesotans are enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program, the Star Tribune reported.
After hearing testimony from those who suffer from chronic pain, the state's Intractable Pain Advisory Panel voted 5-3 not to allow pain patients into the medical marijuana program.
“Panel members expressed concern that patients eligible to use medical cannabis for pain have expectations that it would provide total relief and that such a perception may leave patients to abandon other proven pain-management methods, such as physical therapy,” the recommendation said. “Panel members agreed that medical cannabis should not be the first line of therapy in treating intractable pain, but that it could be an option after exhausting other standard treatments.”
Resident and advocate Cassie Traun said she was disappointed with the panel's decision. Traun told the Star Tribune she is prescribed cannabis for her Crohn's disease, but also suffers from arthritis. The prescription helps alleviate her arthritis symptoms, and she feels other patients could benefit as well.
“Cannabis is not a magic bullet. It’s like any other medication,” Traun said. “To restrict people who are in extreme amounts of pain, and unable to live normal lives; to restrict their treatment options is, honestly, criminal in my mind. It’s really disappointing.”
The panel's decision is a recommendation. The final decision is up to Minnesota Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger, who plans to hold a public forum Tuesday to hear testimony from residents.
“I am thankful for the time and effort the panel members and public participants put into this process,” Ehlinger said in a statement Wednesday. “The recommendations reflect a range of views on the topic as well as the desire for more clinical evidence regarding potential benefits and risks. While the recommendations are not binding, they are part of a set of information I will review.”
Minnesota became the 22nd state last year to legalize medical marijuana. California became the first to do so in 1996, and others states, such as Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, have legalized pot entirely.