Sweeping changes set for medical marijuana in Minnesota: Bill proposes more dispensaries, parental ability to administer
ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s medical marijuana program could undergo sweeping changes under a new House bill that aims to increase patient access and ease restrictions on producers.
The state’s two medical marijuana producers could open twice as many dispensaries under the proposal from state Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina. Parents of adolescent patients would also be allowed to administer the medicine on school grounds.
Those are among several changes that the bipartisan bill would make to the state’s medical marijuana law, which was passed in 2014. Edelson said she hopes her proposal will make needed changes to a law that is widely seen as one of the most restrictive in the country; the plant form of marijuana is banned, and only patients with one of 13 severe conditions can use the pills and oils that are legal.
“We have to heavily regulate it, but I just think that we have to improve how it’s working right now because people do want to use it and it’s burdensome to be able to use right now,” said Edelson, who heard about issues with the program while campaigning last fall.
About 15,000 Minnesotans are enrolled in the medical marijuana program. Many patients have said the medicine is too expensive; Minnesota insurance companies do not cover medical marijuana.
And those in rural communities say it is hard to access. Four of the eight existing facilities are in the Twin Cities metro.
Increasing patient access
The bill would address some of these concerns by doubling the number of medical dispensaries in the state. Both manufacturers, Leafline Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions, could open four new facilities.
That would improve access in rural areas and give the program room to grow, said Bill Parker, CEO of Leafline Labs.
“There is a physical capacity, and there’s only so much you can do with four care centers each,” Parker said. The two companies could also sell each other’s products under the proposal.
Patients enrolled in the medical marijuana program must be recertified by a health care practitioner each year. Finding a registered doctor can be difficult for rural patients.
Under Edelson’s bill, doctors could use telemedicine to recertify patients from a distance.
Use on school grounds
In Minnesota, medical marijuana can be used to treat children with autism, seizures, Tourette syndrome or other conditions.
But parents of adolescent patients cannot give them medical marijuana on school grounds. They must take them out of school and administer the pills or oils off premises.
This bill would change that.
Parents could give their children medical marijuana on the grounds of a preschool, elementary or secondary school, or even on a school bus. Students 18 or older could take their medicine under the supervision of a school official.
Edelson said she will speak with school staff and nurses about the bill, as she wants them to understand what medical marijuana is used for.
“People are just not familiar with medical marijuana, and I think that there are some barriers possibly to work through on that,” she said.
Bringing costs down
The last piece of Edelson’s bill would let Leafline Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions deduct their business expenses. Current law prohibits them from doing so, which contributes to higher operating costs that get passed on to patients.
“So rent costs, salary costs, costs of doing business that … all other corporations can (deduct), we can’t. So our combined federal and state tax rate is about 70 percent,” said Jay Westwater, CEO of Minnesota Medical Solutions.
Both producers lost a combined $11 million in their first two years in business. Financial documents obtained by the St. Paul Pioneer Press show that Minnesota Medical Solutions turned a small profit in 2017, while Leafline Labs lost another $5.3 million.
Westwater and Parker said they hope to lower their prices if they can cut back on operating costs.
“Until, as a manufacturer, we can get the (operating expenses) down, unfortunately it’s not something that we’re able to drastically reduce prices and make it more affordable,” Parker said.