Lawmakers debate adding raw plant option to medical marijuana

May 17, 2019 05:11 PM

A total of 15,000 people are now enrolled in the state's medical marijuana program - 6,000 more than last year. 

But even with the increase in patients, medical marijuana remains very expensive in Minnesota because it's so expensive to make. 


However, a new proposal aims to change that.

There's currently a debate at the State Capitol on whether to allow the sale of raw plant, or flower, with medical cannabis prescriptions.

RELATED: Minnesota medical marijuana program nearly doubled in 2018

"We are one of the most restrictive in the country," DFL Rep. Heather Edelson said. "Every other medical program in the United States allows plants to be sold."

Edelson said doing so could cut prices for medical marijuana by about 50%.

"It would dramatically lower the cost," she said.

The primary reason people qualify for medical marijuana in Minnesota is for intractable or incurable pain.  

Below are the four most-frequently certified qualifying medical conditions as of March 31 of this year.

Andover mother Katie Kennedy said she and her son both need medical cannabis for their various diagnoses. She said she pays $457 each month for her 13-year-old son Tyler's prescriptions. Insurance doesn't cover it, and she's required to pay cash. 

"We are very much hoping that flower is passed and accepted into our program in Minnesota," Kennedy said. 

Veterans are also asking for more options.

There was a demonstration on the Capitol steps Friday entitled "The Cold Hard Truth." It featured a casket with a flag, filled with empty pill bottles, symbolizing the need for other medication options, like medical cannabis, at a much cheaper price. 

"In the state of Minnesota it's very expensive," said Jeremy Sankey with Minnesota Veterans for Cannabis. "The legislature has the ability to make changes to the program that could make it more affordable for veterans."

But Republican Sen. Michelle Benson said the voices of more stakeholders need to be heard.

"I don't want to get ahead of what we're ready for," she said.

Benson said lawmakers have already adopted Senate provisions, which include doubling distribution sites from one to two in each district for a total of up to 16 statewide, as well as allowing prescriptions to be written for 90 days instead of only 30.

Lawmakers are now debating the House provisions, which include adding flower.

"There's some concern about plant material on two fronts," Benson said, citing law enforcement and doctors.

On law enforcement: "How are they supposed to know that's a prescription or that that is part of a medical cannabis program," she said. 

And on doctors: "I heard from a doctor who has a patient enrolled in the medical cannabis program," Benson said. "He said 'I'm not exactly sure how I would prescribe a quantity when it comes to plant based materials.'" 

Edelson wants legislation passed this session. But Benson said stakeholder groups need to be heard from, and this likely won't get a vote until next session.

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Brandi Powell

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