The Minnesota Department of Health announced the addition of autism and obstructive sleep apnea to the state's medical marijuana program. Starting July 1, 2018, patients who suffer from these conditions will be eligible to apply for the program.
The state has one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country, with nine conditions at launch. There are only two companies that are licensed to manufacture medical cannabis, and smokable flower is not permitted. In the latest report to consider additional qualifying conditions, the health department passed on eight other petitions, including anxiety disorders, dementia and Parkinson's disease.
While patient counts have been growing steadily – particularly after the addition of chronic pain – questions surrounding the viability of the program continue. To date, the program has 7,747 active patients, who have mostly reported benefiting from medical marijuana access.
"Today’s decision to add [autism spectrum disorder] and obstructive sleep apnea to the list of qualifying conditions is yet another positive and thoughtful step forward," LeafLine Labs CEO Andrew Bachman said in a statement. But the limited expansion probably won't do much to help the state's medical marijuana manufacturers.
The two companies lost a combined $11 million during the first two years of sales. "Continuing losses… hint at systemic problems with the state’s tightly regulated program," reported The Associated Press in May.
Meanwhile, patients have been complaining about a lack of supply at LeafLine Labs. "Due to some unforeseen delays at the lab, including the recent holiday, we are still waiting for our certificate of analysis to release more product to our patients," Bachman said in a statement to the Star-Tribune.
A medical marijuana patient told the paper that the delay could result in some patients going back to opioids, which "could be extremely dangerous." The distribution snafu points to a pitfall in having such a limited program with only two manufacturers.
The ban on marijuana flowers also keeps some patients out of the program. Some medical users fought hard to pass the law, heading to the state capitol to testify before lawmakers. But many opted out due to the restrictions on plant material, choosing instead to stay in the black market.
In a survey that the state health department sent patients last year, 73% reported the cost to be unaffordable.
Steep prices are characteristic of such restrictive programs. Reports out of New York, which has a similarly limited medical cannabis law, found that patients are also turning to the black market.
It remains to be seen whether such restrictive programs can be functional, whether in Minnesota or New York.