Minnesotans who suffer from intractable pain received good news in December, as state officials decided to let them start using medical marijuana next August.
Ed Ehlinger, Minnesota’s health commissioner, announced the decision Dec. 2 during a news conference. He called it “the right and compassionate choice” and said it would help alleviate suffering.
“The relative scarcity of firm evidence made this a difficult decision,” Ehlinger said. “However, given the strong medical focus of Minnesota’s medical cannabis program and the compelling testimony of hundreds of Minnesotans, it became clear that the right and compassionate choice was to add intractable pain to the program’s list of qualifying conditions. This gives new options for clinicians and new hope for suffering patients.”
The decision is a big deal for medical marijuana patients. It will dramatically expand the number of patients who qualify for medicinal pot, and that could hasten further cannabis reforms in the state.
Medical marijuana took effect in Minnesota earlier this year. It’s one of the most restrictive programs of its kind, with a short list of qualifying conditions and a ban on smoking. Patients must consume the drugs in other ways, including vaporizing and eating it.
Currently few patients are able to take advantage of the program because of its tight restrictions. The state’s culturally conservative medical community has been reluctant to recommend the drug for patients.
All that could change with the addition of chronic pain. And with more patients, the cost of cannabis is likely to drop. High prices have kept many patients from getting their marijuana on the legal medical market.
Ehlinger’s announcement came almost a year after the Department of Health opted to delay a decision on including pain. Voters overwhelmingly favor adding it to the list, but local medical experts have argued against it.
It’s a fight they’re losing. Doctors also did their best to prevent medical marijuana in the first place, and they’re expected to fight full legalization when it arrives. The new decision by the Department of Health marks a small but important turning point in the development of reform in Minnesota.
Doug McChesney, a local patient who lost his job eight years ago after suffering a neck injury, told reporters he was thrilled at the news. McChesney said he has used black market marijuana to relieve his pain and help him sleep. Now he won’t have to break the law.
“Today I got the call they passed it, and I was so happy,” McChesney said. And hopefully I can get some sleep now. Maybe that will help me sleep. That’s what I’m hoping, and maybe to heal.”
Observers predict most doctors will refuse to recommend patients for pain treatment, regardless of the law. The medical community in Minnesota is notoriously stubborn and mired in the past when it comes to new forms of therapy. But that may not matter much in the end: The state is considered a likely bet to legalize recreational cannabis in the next few years.