Enrollment opened Monday for Minnesota's medical marijuana program, and Shelly Rapp was ready and waiting to sign up her son.
The family recently moved here from California, where 18-year-old Scott had been taking cannabis oil — a few drops, a few times a day — to treat the intractable seizures that have racked him since birth. His mother, skeptical at first about the drug's usefulness, watched as Scott's seizures dropped from hundreds a day to just a handful.
He started smiling. His eyesight improved. They weaned him off his other epilepsy medications and treatments.
"Scott has so many seizures, I never really had any hope of anything working," Rapp said. "But we had amazing success."
Medical cannabis will be legal in Minnesota as of July 1. Monday was the first day health care providers could begin certifying their patients to participate in the Minnesota Medical Cannabis Registry. Scott's new neurologist, Rapp said, has been "totally supportive" of her request to help him enroll.
The Minnesota Health Department will release its first-day enrollment figures Tuesday. Assistant Health Care Commissioner Manny Munson-Regala, who is overseeing the program's rollout, said the first day seemed to go smoothly. The state has estimated that 5,000 patients will enroll in the program in its first year — although the exact number is anyone's guess. By midday Monday, the Minnesota Medical Association had heard from 11 physicians who were registering for accounts with the Health Department, a spokesman said.
"Don't get too excited, one way or the other, about the first month's [enrollment] data," Munson-Regala said.
Patients are already booking July 1 appointments at Minneapolis' first and only medical cannabis clinic. Minnesota Medical Solutions, which operates the clinic and is responsible for growing and refining half the state's medical marijuana crop, plans to open its doors at midnight to accommodate patients who want access to the drug the moment it's legal.
"Things are moving along," said company CEO Dr. Kyle Kingsley, who began to hear from patients and doctors Monday morning and expects even more to enroll as the program revs up.
The Minneapolis dispensary will open in the old League of Catholic Women building on 207 S. 9th St. The location will be "beautiful," Kingsley said, and staffed with nurses and pharmacists, ready to talk patients through their options. "It's going to make patients very comfortable."
Minnesota's medical cannabis program is one of the most strictly regulated in the nation. It is limited to patients with certain conditions, including epilepsy, cancer and glaucoma, and the drug will only be sold as pills and liquids. Cannabis will be sold at just eight clinics, scattered across the state. The first three will open July 1 in Minneapolis, Eagan and St. Cloud.
Once a doctor, nurse or other health care worker certifies that a Minnesota resident has one of the nine qualifying conditions, there is a $200 annual enrollment fee — less for low-income patients.
Rapp's son Scott has been taking his seizure medications again since he moved to Minnesota, and his mother is eager to get him back on cannabis oil. Some parents are leery about letting their kids get "high," she said. But the dose Scott was taking was the equivalent of one-fiftieth of a teaspoon of THC — the compound that gives marijuana its buzz — and its effect was much gentler on him than most of the legal prescriptions he's taken.
"Kids do not get high from this medication, because they need such a low dose," she said. But even if he did get a buzz from the oil, she said, "What's better? A life-threatening seizure, or sitting in a wheelchair with a little grin on your face?"