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5 things about medical marijuana in Minnesota

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ST. PAUL - Minnesota’s medical marijuana program is often called one of the most restrictive in the country.

Why?

The drug is available only in the form of pills and liquids; the plant is illegal.

There are just two manufacturers.

And only patients who have one of 13 severe conditions can qualify.

Actually, those are just a few of the reasons. Here are five more things you may not know about the medical cannabis program.

Access an issue for rural patients

There are eight medical cannabis dispensaries in Minnesota — four of them are in the Twin Cities metro. The other locations are in scattered across the state: in Rochester, St. Cloud, Hibbing and Moorhead.

Patients in the southwest and northwest corners of the state have to drive long distances to get their medication.

A patient in Bemidji would have a roughly two-hour drive to the nearest dispensary in Hibbing. A patient in Mankato would have to drive 85 miles to get to the Rochester facility.

Patients are dropping out in droves

Data from the Minnesota Department of Health shows that more new patients are dropping out of the program than staying in.

Fifty-four percent (more than 3,400) of the patients who enrolled in the program in 2017 did not re-enroll the next year.

Kids can use it - just not at school

About 500 kids under the age of 18 are enrolled in Minnesota’s medical cannabis program. The medications can help treat autism, seizures and Tourette syndrome, among other conditions.

Children are not allowed to take their medical cannabis at school, though. State law prohibits it. Parents must schedule doses accordingly or take their children out of school and administer the drugs off premises.

Finding a medical marijuana doctor can be tough

There are 1,479 health care practitioners authorized to certify patients.

Yet just 30 doctors have certified around half of the 22,966 patients who have ever enrolled in the program, according to Department of Health data.

Here’s how the numbers break down:

  • The 10 doctors with the most enrollments have certified 8,442 patients, or 37 percent of all enrollments.
  • The 20 doctors with the most enrollments have certified 10,497 patients, or 46 percent of all enrollments.
  • The 30 doctors with the most enrollments have certified 11,360 patients, or about half of all enrollments.

There is no good way to explain these numbers, except that some doctors advertise more than others. Life Medical in St. Louis Park, for instance, lists medical marijuana on the main page of its website.

The Office of Medical Cannabis within the Department of Health does not provide a list of certified doctors to the public. Patients must find them through research or word of mouth.

Medical marijuana or guns? Patients cannot have both

Under federal law, any person who is an “unlawful user of or addicted to any controlled substance” cannot legally buy or own a gun.

Marijuana is listed as a Schedule I drug in the Controlled Substances Act. There are no exceptions in federal law for medical marijuana users, even if medical use is legal in their home state, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

A medical marijuana patient is suing the Trump administration over this statute. A victory could potentially upend the restriction.