Patients Discuss First Months of Medical Marijuana

The Struggles And Successes Of Medical Marijuana In Minnesota

— Lawmakers, medical experts and law enforcement officials tracking the launch of Minnesota’s medical marijuana law got an earful Friday of the good and bad stories of the state’s new program.

Nearly three months in since medical cannabis went on sale in July, it’s a mixed bag: several parents who report their children’s lives have turned around due to the medicine after years of debilitating seizures, patients who have returned to the black market because the prices are too high and people who still can’t register due to the narrow list of qualifying conditions.

The task force overseeing the program met Friday for the first time since it launched this summer, with a sharp focus on the growing pains of Minnesota’s new medical marijuana economy — from patient’s struggles to afford the medication to the logistical hurdles that come with selling a drug that the federal government still bans.

Manny Munson-Regala, chief executive at the manufacturing company LeafLine Labs, said the federal government’s stance on marijuana — it’s classified as a Schedule I drug — has exacerbated production costs. Neither LeafLine nor Minnesota Medical Solutions can write off business expenses for tax purposes. Munson-Regala said his company pays about a 50 percent tax rate.

Those high prices have prompted Jennessa Lea to return to buying marijuana on the street to treat a painful condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. She’s one of several patients who have told The Associated Press they’ve reverted to the black market due to state-approved medications’ high costs, which can quickly rack up into hundreds or thousands of dollars for a month’s supply.

“We have these places here that are supposed to be attainable … and there’s still so much red tape,” Lea told the task force.

Even for those parents who sang medical marijuana’s praises, price was a concern. Rochelle Quandt said she’s starting a second job to afford the $500-plus monthly supply of medical marijuana that treats her 9-year-old daughter’s seizures.

Quandt said there’s another hiccup: Her daughter’s school won’t allow the medication to be administered on public grounds. Quandt altered her daughter’s medication schedule — Alexandra takes it after getting home from school now — but Quandt asked lawmakers sitting on the panel to tweak the law to help.

Despite the high prices, Kari Olavson said the new medication has changed her 4-year-old son’s life. After being diagnosed with epilepsy at just 8 days old, Jacob’s development had been stunted by seizures. Before using medical marijuana, he couldn’t focus, she said.

“He’s been smiling,” she said. “We used to keep photos of him from when he was 6 months old, because that was the last time we had seen him smile.”

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