With legalization of THC in Minnesota, what happens to the state’s medical marijuana program?

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Minnesota legalized the sale and use of dried cannabis four months ago. It will soon allow the same patients to buy and use edibles made from marijuana within a month.

These changes were made to make it more affordable and to address the changing ways that patients use medical cannabis to treat the conditions. span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>. These changes are expected to increase the number of people who use the program. Some will be switching from the illegal gray or black market.

Chris Tholkes


Is any of this possible? Program managers and advocates for Minnesota medical marijuana say there is a mix of yes and no.

The eight-year-old program had 26,000 registered users before March 1, when dried plant could be sold. The program was used by just 37,000 people as of July 7. Chris Tholkes (director of the state Office of Medical Cannabis) said that the number of returning or new registrants has increased from 700 per week up to 1,000 per week since March 1. She said that this pace has not slowed down.


span style=”font weight: 400 ;”>” At first, we told our agents that this might slow down after initial interest. But it hasn’t,” Tholkes stated.


Another measure is the number visits to dispensaries that are allowed by the state. Tholkes stated that the increase in visits and purchases is due to dried cannabis purchases. However, there were limits on how much could be bought at once. This could have led to multiple visits for the same supply.

Minnesota Department of Health


Tholkes stated that she believed patients would switch from using other products to dry cannabis. However, that has not been the case.


She said that extract products are still exactly the same as they were in the past or slightly higher. It seems that people continue to use extract products with a longer effect and possibly using flower span>


However, some medical marijuana advocates believe that the numbers of registrants are lower than they expected. This is due to higher-than-expected prices by the two state-licensed providers and gray market marijuana from neighboring states.


span style=”font weight: 400 The price didn’t go down. They didn’t fall in the way we expected,” stated Maren Schroeder (policy director, cofounder of Sensible Change Minnesota), a drug-policy-reform organization.


The surprise July 1 legalization in Minnesota of hemp-based edibles might have a negative impact on another expected increase in patients who sign up for the program. Minnesota, which is the only jurisdiction to allow some edibles in the U.S. but not legal recreational marijuana, is shown on the U.S. map.


The Program has been around for eight years


The path to legalizing medical marijuana use in Minnesota has been rocky. The state was an outlier when it finally became legal eight years ago. In the first year, there were only two growers, eight dispensaries, and a few approved medical conditions. There were just 5,000 participants.

Gradually, the number of conditions has increased with chronic pain, intractable and post-traumatic stress disorder becoming the top three most common conditions among state patients.


Only last year, however, the Legislature approved dried cannabis for sale and use in edible products. Before the March 1 rollout, patients were limited to purchasing oils, creams, and more recently dissolvable mints, lozenges. Minnesota was one of only two states that had banned the most familiar way of smoking marijuana, which is by using pipes or papers.

Green Goods
The map of the U.S. shows states that allow recreational cannabis. Minnesota is the only jurisdiction that allows edibles, but it is not legal recreational marijuana.


Price was the main reason that dried raw cannabis was added. Patients preferred to use the illegal market because of the high cost of vaping oils, creams, and tinctures. The state medical cannabis office determined that legal products should cost between $300 and $360 per months. This is not covered by insurance.


Advocates suggested that being able to purchase flower could reduce the price by half. Based on past experience, the number of patients in states that allow smokable cannabis within their programs is expected to quadruple or triple. This would mean Minnesota has nearly 100,000 medical marijuana users.

Minnesota Department of Health


Schroeder stated that the price isn’t falling enough. She blames the fact that the state allows only two providers.



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Schroeder stated that the flower that was produced is very expensive. Patients aren’t willing to spend the amount that these two manufacturers ask. “Their prices are almost identical, and there is no market incentive to lower them. This has been very frustrating for patients .”


Schroeder stated that the sharp increase in dispensary visits is partly due to two factors. In the beginning, providers had to limit the amount of purchases because they didn’t have enough. Patients had to come back multiple times to get what they wanted to buy in one visit. Price is the other. She said that customers may choose to buy one ounce of gold at a time rather than buying an entire ounce.


A pound of dried cannabis can sell for as high as $480, while the same amount is available in Colorado, a state with many providers and fierce price competition for less than $200. Although it is illegal to import marijuana from Minnesota’s recreational states, patients might be tempted to fly to Colorado or drive to Illinois to get their cannabis.


Both providers have lifted the caps on how much dried cannabis each patient can buy at once. Tholkes, the state medical program’s spokesperson, said that supply problems are being addressed. However she added that staff compared prices in other states to determine if they were comparable to the ones being offered to Minnesotan patients.


She said that the products were in the right range. “I hope that over time we will see the prices of all products begin to fall .”


Jason Tarasek is an attorney who practices in cannabis law. He agreed with Schroeder about the disappointing pricing and how it is keeping medical marijuana patients down. He stated that he believes the gray market supply from neighboring states of marijuana is offering Minnesotans a more affordable alternative.


span style=”font weight: 400 As more states legalize marijuana, the national supply – the diverted marketplace from adult-use states– grows,” Tarasek stated. It’s hard to enforce. There are currently 19 states that have legalized adult use marijuana. Federal legalization is inevitable. We are at the tipping point. It’s everywhere.


He said that span style=”font weight: 400 Medical consumers act rationally and will make decisions based upon price.”


Another disincentive in the highest-in-the-nation annual fee patients have to pay – $200 for most patients and $50 for disabled veterans and those on medical assistance. The impasse between the House, Senate, and Governor resulted in a bill to reduce the fee to $40. Tim Walz at end of regular session.


Hemp-based edibles


The Legislature approved the sale of dried cannabis flowers last year. However, the Department of Health allowed edibles such as chews and gummies to be included in its medical marijuana program. Neither knew what was going to happen this spring. The sale of edibles to the general population was quietly approved by lawmakers provided that they were derived from industrial hemp, a cousin to cannabis, and contained less than five mg of THC. Only 50 mg can be contained in a package.


The medical edibles that are available starting August 1 can have a 10 mg serving size and can contain up to 100 mg of THC per package. However, it is not illegal for a customer to take two hemp-derived edibles in order to attain the same level of intoxication.


span style=”font weight: 400 I think it will help a lot patients and make it safer,” stated Schroeder who lobbyed the Legislature to pass the new law. “The legalized products were being sold all over, but they will now be subject to testing and labeling requirements.


Schroeder stated that she hopes the creation of a new market for hemp-derived edibles will have an impact on the price of edibles in medical markets.

Minnesota Department of Health


She said, “Now they’re also competing with the hemp industry which could drive down the market price for their chews and gummies.” It’ll be an experiment. What price differential will it be? Will patients choose to buy edibles from the hemp market or the med-market?


This could reduce the expected increase in patient numbers in the state’s medical program.


Tarasek stated that people will likely choose to self-medicate rather than go to the medical manufacturers. “People will likely choose to self-medicate that way, rather than going to the medical manufacturers .”


Tholkes stated that she is monitoring the new market, but she said that she believes there are reasons for medical marijuana patients to buy edibles like gummies from state suppliers over the new market. The medical products are made from marijuana plants and not hemp. Because of the high THC content in marijuana, it is easier to extract the desired effects and less processing is required.


Medical products require more stringent testing.


Tholkes stated that the over-the-counter products are not affected by these things. “None are those things happening with the over-the-counter products .”


Manufacturers must submit samples to independent testing laboratories to prove that they meet the requirements of the state Board of Pharmacy. The state board can request the results of these tests. The pharmacy board is limited to two dozen employees and cannot patrol sales because there is no licensing requirement.


While the state medical program sets limits on chemical content, the state hemp edibles law states that products can only contain trace amounts of pesticides, residual solvents, and fertilizers. She said that it was a subjective limit.

Tholkes stated that patients who want to be sure they are getting safe products will visit us. Tholkes noted that Oregon was one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. This is because of concerns over the chemicals used in extracting and enhancing the THC from hemp.


Tholkes stated that she expects many patients who use medical marijuana to try out the new edibles. The price of edibles could play a role in whether or not they purchase edibles from the state program by Aug. 1, when edibles will be added to the program.


She said that they wouldn’t completely abandon the medical program. “They value their relationship and dosing provided by their pharmacist.” A medical marijuana registration provides some protection against civil and criminal liability when consuming products purchased through the program.


It is more likely that they use both paths, Tholkes stated.

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