MINNEAPOLIS — Minnesota’s health commissioner has authorized a significant expansion of medical marijuana in the state, approving cannabis use for two more conditions, including chronic pain, and approving more stores and formulations.

Intractable pain already is the most common qualifying condition for two-thirds of the state’s 18,000 medical cannabis users, but the addition of chronic pain starting next August should dramatically increase the number of legal users. Cannabis also will be permissible for people with age-related macular degeneration, a common retinal condition that degrades vision over time.

“The bottom line is that people suffering from these serious conditions may be helped by participating in the program, and we felt it was important to give them the opportunity to seek that relief,” said state health commissioner Jan Malcolm in expanding to 16 the number of qualifying conditions in Minnesota.

Malcolm rejected petitions by Minnesotans to add anxiety, insomnia, psoriasis and traumatic brain injury as qualifying conditions, citing a lack of scientific evidence to support them. Chronic pain is a much broader category than intractable pain, which under state law is defined as a form of intolerable pain that cannot be addressed with other remedies or medications.

Minnesota currently allows people to receive medical cannabis if they are certified by their doctors to receive it, in inhaled or pill form, from one of two licensed distributors in the state. As of next year, cannabis also will be available in water-soluble powders and sprinkles, and in dissolvable forms such as lozenges and mints. The number of storefronts will double — with manufacturer LeafLine Labs planning new shops in Willmar, Mankato, Golden Valley and Rogers, and Minnesota Medical Solutions planning additions into Woodbury, Blaine, Duluth and Burnsville.

The expansion comes as state health investigators are still grappling with the causes of 125 probable or confirmed vaping-associated lung injuries, including three deaths. Most of the injuries involved people vaping illicit forms of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, although at least two of the injured Minnesotans were on the state’s medical cannabis registry. State officials said both also were vaping illicit substances.

Malcolm said the addition of new forms of medical cannabis in Minnesota would offer alternatives to people concerned about vaping. The state’s medical cannabis program has existed since 2015.


©2019 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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