Minnesota patients can begin buying medical marijuana

Published 10:09 am Monday, August 1, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS — Judy Bjerke Severson wants to be normal — visit friends and family, go to the grocery store or even sleep in her own bed — but she says the crippling pain from fibromyalgia and back surgery complications, as well as a painkiller-induced fog, have made her a shell of her former self.

Monday brings a sliver of hope to her and other Minnesota residents that have incurable pain: They can finally buy medical marijuana. Bjerke Severson will be the first to be seen Monday at the Bloomington clinic.

“I could just cry I’m so excited,” the 70-year-old Edina woman said. “I don’t enjoy this life I have right now.”

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Expanding the list of qualifying conditions to include intractable pain marks a critical juncture in the year-old program, which is among the most restrictive in the country. Manufacturers and patients alike have big hopes that it will usher in thousands of new patients, eventually bringing down high costs — exceeding $1,000 a month for some patients — and easing dependence on addictive narcotic painkillers.

Those hopes were buoyed by data from the state showing nearly 500 patients suffering intractable pain had registered in July — the first month of registration and a month before legal sales could begin. That’s more than five times the number of people who had signed up as at the same point ahead of the program’s launch.

The Minnesota Legislature legalized medical marijuana in 2014, banning the plant form, allowing only pills, oils and vapors and restricting it to patients with nine serious conditions who received their doctor’s permission.

However, the Legislature directed Minnesota’s health commissioner to determine if intractable pain should be added within the program’s first year. Commissioner Ed Ehlinger cited the program’s successful first few months when announcing in December that intractable pain would qualify starting Aug. 1.

Kyle Kinglsey at Minnesota Medical Solutions, one of the state’s two medical marijuana manufacturers, said he’s confident a largely problem-free first year and their own outreach efforts to the medical community would make it easier in the second year. He also said he thinks doctors, many of whom patients have said are wary of the health benefits and possible drawbacks of marijuana, will be convinced it’s an attractive alternative to addictive and often deadly opiate painkillers.