Minnesota House Committe Votes to Add Chronic Pain, Raw Cannabis to Medical Cannabis Program

Originally published by Sensible Change Minnesota.

On Friday, April 5th, the House Health and Human Services Committee adopted changes to a bill affecting the state’s medical cannabis program which would improve access and affordability for Minnesota’s patients. The measures, brought forward by Representative Rod Hamilton (R-Mountain Lake), add chronic pain and chronic conditions which an opiate can be prescribed for as qualifying conditions and add the raw form of cannabis to the allowed vaporized delivery methods. Additionally, the committee eliminated arbitrary qualifiers for cancer and terminal illness patients.

Hamilton discussed his own experience with the medical cannabis program, certified by his doctor due to multiple sclerosis, including the “sticker shock” he experienced when he first visited the dispensary. Representative Dave Baker (R-Willmar), when discussing using medical cannabis to reduce opiate use, noted that he hasn’t heard of people dying from taking medical cannabis.

Hamilton further noted that the current program “discourages individuals with limited means to access the program,” and that other states have added the flower form and lowered the cost of their programs.

In response to questions about whether or not the legislature has done enough research on the issue of adding raw cannabis, Representative Laurie Halverson (D-Eagan), co-chair of the Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Use Task Force, noted that the Task Force has heard compelling testimony from patients that affordability is a big issue that needs to be addressed. She added “these moms and dads don’t want to go on the street to find a dealer, they want to use the medical cannabis program and I think this would help that access.”

Representative Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) talked about his father, who used medical cannabis during treatment for pancreatic cancer, “he used medical cannabis for the last year of his life and it was helpful in reducing opiate intake, masking the pain and helping with nausea.” Representatives Robert Bierman (D-Apple Valley) and Hunter Cantrell (D – Savage) both voiced their support for the measures.

Chair Tina Liebling (D-Rochester) gave a compelling closing statement indicating that she believes the program has “proven itself” and that “a lot of people in our state are getting relief from this… The problem that we have is one of costs and so I do not think this is premature,” when discussing the addition of raw cannabis to the program.”

Sensible Change Minnesota built a coalition of support for the measures including patients, advocates, union members, and legislators from all three House caucuses. The next stop for the HHS Omnibus bill is the House Ways and Means Committee, followed by the House floor, where these medical cannabis measures are expected to remain in the bill. Advocates will now focus on the Senate.

“We thank Representative Hamilton and the members of the committee, but acknowledge we still have a significant amount of work to do. These are bipartisan measures that we believe will improve the lives of many Minnesotans. We look forward to working with the Senate, Department of Health, and our two manufacturers, to ensure these measures pass through the legislature and are timely implemented to provide accessible and affordable medical cannabis to any Minnesotan who can benefit from this treatment,” said Brandan Borgos of Sensible Change Minnesota.

View highlights of the hearing here.

Sensible Change Minnesota has organized a Medical Cannabis Patients Day on Tuesday, April 9th at 2:30 p.m. in the State Capitol Rotunda. Advocates encourage patients to attend and connect with their legislators to share their stories.