One month after legalization, there are still more doctors than patients enrolled in Minnesota’s medical marijuana program. As of Friday morning, there were 250 patients and 334 health care practitioners enrolled in the Health Department’s Office of Medical Cannabis.
Even so, patients eligible for the program have struggled to find doctors willing to help them enroll. Those who do make it into the program are facing rising prices for a medication that’s not covered by any insurance.
“Guess banging my head against the wall will not move the wall,” said Duane Bandel, who has AIDS — one of nine conditions the law says entitles him to try medical cannabis — but has been unable to get his doctors to fill out the paperwork for the state.
Minnesota law gives physicians and clinics the option of opting out. Unless patients can find a primary caregiver to confirm that they have a qualifying condition, they cannot enroll in the program. Bandel said his clinic, which has been treating him since his diagnosis in 2002, is not currently certifying patients, although it may reconsider that decision sometime next year.
“Too bad I spent all that time trying to get this law to work for all Minnesotans, since it isn’t working for me,” said a frustrated Bandel, who lobbied hard for medical cannabis legalization. He sits on the state’s Task Force on Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research.
The first month in business has meant adjustment for the two companies that are growing and selling the state’s entire medical marijuana crop. At Minnesota Medical Solutions, CEO Kyle Kingsley announced price hikes — 15 percent to 20 percent, depending on the product — as the company saw larger-than-expected numbers of low-income patients, who receive a discount on their cannabis prescriptions.
On Friday, a second of Kingsley’s companies, Empire State Health Solutions, was selected to be one of five cannabis providers for New York’s new medical marijuana program.
Kinglsey said he hopes that as the program expands and more patients enroll, prices will drop again. The company will be modifying its prices, which average between $200 and $400 for a month’s supply of cannabis oil, pills or tinctures, on a quarterly basis, he said.
“It is imperative that we find a way to bring costs down,” Kingsley said. “Obviously, I’ve lost some sleep over the price increase, but we are still beyond competitive here in Minnesota.”
The state’s other manufacturer, LeafLine Labs, had to pull its entire stock of epilepsy medication just before the program launched on July 1, forcing many of those patients to turn to MinnMed for the first three weeks of the program until LeafLine could reformulate.
LeafLine CEO Manny Munson-Regala, who moved from overseeing the cannabis program at the Health Department to running one of the state’s two marijuana manufacturers, said the supply of epilepsy medication has been restored. LeafLine has no plans to raise its prices now, he said.
The state’s first two medical marijuana clinics opened in Minneapolis and Eagan on July 1. Since then, MinnMed opened a second clinic in Rochester and plans to open its third storefront in Moorhead later this summer. MinnMed’s final clinic will open in the western suburbs at a later date.
LeafLine plans to open its second clinic in St. Cloud in October and two more in St. Paul and Hibbing next year. Munson-Regala said finding a St. Paul location has been particularly tricky, since state law bans the dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or day care, and St. Paul has an abundance of both.
Minnesota’s medical marijuana program is one of the most restrictive in the nation. By law, cannabis is available only to patients with a handful of serious medical conditions and can be sold only as pills or liquids — not in its smokable plant form — from one of eight retail outlets scattered across the state.