Minnesota is still new to medical marijuana. Sick people only been able to legally access marijuana there since July 1, 2015, and the state is taking its cannabis experiment seriously — quite possibly, too seriously for its own good.
Medical cannabis is enormously popular with the American public — more than 90 percent of Americans say they believe sick people should be able to use marijuana, which has real medical value, without fear of arrest — and within the last five years, the issue has achieved critical momentum.
There is now some form of medical marijuana in more than 40 states, but like many of the states new to the concept, medical cannabis in Minnesota is strictly regulated. In fact, marijuana in Minnesota is subject to some of the tightest controls in the United States.
In order to qualify for access, patients must suffer from one of 10 very severe conditions, and they must have a physician certify they suffer from the ailment. Then, and only then, can patients access cannabis in either oil or pill form — no smokable plant material is allowed.
As far as the state’s health commissioner is concerned, everything is going great. Most of the patients involved are reporting real benefits, according to a recent U.S. News report by Ed Ehlinger, who also noted “no serious adverse events” associated with providing sick people legal weed.
But on the business end, cannabis in Minnesota is a near-catastrophe.
By law, the two companies licensed to provide patients with cannabis are limited to roughly 6,000 customers — the total number of patients to qualify and register in Minnesota, out of a population of 5.5 million. With so few potential patrons, it’s no surprise the two companies reported nearly $11 million in combined losses over their first two years in business, according to recent financial statements.
“This is the cost of doing medicinal cannabis correctly,” said Andrew Bachman, CEO of LeafLine, one of the two companies, in a statement to the Associated Press. “The goal was never to post a profit early. It was to take care of people, always.”
Maybe so, but the AP report suggest those staggering losses also “hint at systemic problems” with the state’s program.
Last year, chronic pain was added to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, and beginning later this summer, sufferers of PTSD will also qualify to access medical cannabis. At the same time, it appears clear the state has created significant roadblocks to access.
As per the AP, each manufacturer must run several rounds of testing on its products and operate four dispensaries around the state, meaning the total pool of potential patrons for each cannabis outlet is less than 1,000 people.
It’s almost as if it’s built to fail.
Both companies’ CEOs say that they’re on track and hope to break even in 2017, but if they don’t, and they go out of business, patients will have to rely on caregivers or the black market — because the state Legislature won’t help.
“It’s not the job of the state government to create conditions in which private companies can be profitable for selling marijuana,” said Republican Rep. Nick Zerwas.
Imagine similar words about any other industry — Minnesota is now a cautionary tale.
TELL US, should local government support the legal cannabis industry?