Medical marijuana will be legal next week, but so far, only a few dozen Minnesotans will be legally allowed to use it.
As of Friday, the state's Office of Medical Cannabis had enrolled 41 patients in the space of three weeks.
"This is a rollout, not a race," said Health Department spokesman Michael Schommer, noting that patients can enroll at any time. "That said, we are gratified to see the ­numbers increasing steadily."
Only eight patients signed up in the first week of enrollment. The state has estimated that 5,000 seriously ill Minnesotans might try state-sanctioned medical cannabis in the program's first few years.
The roadblock, for many patients, has been finding a doctor, nurse practitioner or other medical professional willing to certify that they're sick enough to qualify for the program.
Minnesota's medical cannabis program is one of the most tightly regulated in the nation. To participate, patients must have one of nine qualifying conditions — which range from terminal illnesses to seizure disorders and cancers. The Health Department is debating whether to expand the program to patients with chronic pain next year.
But first, patients need a health care professional to certify that they have one of the qualifying conditions. Patients are supposed to get certified by their primary care physician or specialist. But participation in the program is voluntary and some doctors and medical practices have opted out.
A Minnesota Medical Association survey this month found that 68 percent of responding doctors said they would not certify a patient to buy medical cannabis.
By the end of last week, 187 health care practitioners had registered with the Office of Medical Cannabis and 176 have been authorized to sign patients up for the program. But there is no easy way for sick patients to find them.
The Health Department, which operates the Office of Medical Cannabis, does not make the names public. Schommer said the Health Department is "aware of and concerned about" patients who have been unable to get certified.
"The whole idea of the program is to help sick people and we want to make sure that's what the program does," said Schommer, noting that patients can seek a second opinion if their doctor or medical practice opts out of the program. The rising tally, he said, "is a sign that people are able to get into the program, which is exactly what they're supposed to be doing at this point."
The first two dispensaries will open in Minneapolis and Eagan on July 1. Six more will open around the state in the weeks after that.