Sales of medicinal cannabis flower began in Minnesota on Monday, giving the state’s medical marijuana patients a new and more affordable option to access their medicine of choice. The Minnesota Department of Health announced in February that cannabis flower would be added to the state’s medical marijuana program, which until this week only permitted patients to use processed cannabis products such as extracts, distillates, capsules, and topicals.
Chris Tholkes, the director of Minnesota’s Office of Medical Cannabis, said that the addition of cannabis flower was made primarily to make medical marijuana products more affordable for patients. With manufacturing costs included in the cost of processed cannabis products, they are generally more expensive than dried and cured cannabis flower. Regulators expect the addition of cannabis flower to the medical marijuana program to result in a spike in the number of registered patients.
“It gives patients a much more affordable access point to the medicine that cannabis provides,” said Dr. Kyle Kingsley, the CEO of Vireo Health of Minnesota. “Many patients switching from our more standard products to flower will be able to save about 50 percent on a monthly basis to treat their various medical conditions.”
Patricia Gates was one of the first patients to purchase cannabis flower at the Green Goods medical dispensary in downtown Minneapolis on Monday. She agreed that the new option is much more affordable, saying the change will significantly impact her monthly budget.
“So this is going to save me probably upwards of 400 or more,” Gates told local media. “So I see this as a huge blessing … huge blessing!”
Gates had a shingles infection in her ear in 2017 that resulted in Ramsy Hunt syndrome, a condition that causes her constant pain and has left half of her face paralyzed. Before beginning treatment with medicinal cannabis oil and tablets two years ago, she was taking 18 daily prescriptions. Cannabis is much more effective, but a full month’s supply cost $800, an amount unaffordable for Gates. As a result, she often had to make do with less.
“This particular chemical has literally saved my life every day since June of 2019 when I was certified on the registry,” said Gates.
“This is really exciting for cannabis patients,” she added. “I’m not even kidding—this is, like, huge!”
Minnesota Patient Roster Expected to Spike
Based on the experience of other states with legal cannabis, the health department said last month that it expects patient enrollment in the medical marijuana program, which currently stands at about 30,000 patients, to likely double or even triple. The agency cited an October 2021 survey of registered patients in which 71 percent of respondents said they were either very likely or somewhat likely to try smokable cannabis flower if it was made available.
“We did a price point study in 2019, and the average cost for a patient in a month is a little over $300,” said Tholkes. “I think we’re going to see a very sharp increase now that we have lowered the cost for folks.”
Under the new regulations, medical dispensaries will offer pre-packaged, dried cannabis flower and pre-rolled joints in a variety of strains and cannabinoid potency levels. Registered patients will be able to purchase up to a 90-day supply of cannabis at one time. Before purchasing cannabis flower, however, patients must first complete a consultation with a medical dispensary pharmacist to change the type of cannabis they receive. Patients have the option of either in-person or virtual consultations to satisfy the requirement.
“In preparation for the change, registered patients interested in smokable cannabis can make an appointment for a consultation with a medical cannabis dispensary pharmacist beginning February 1, so they will be pre-approved to buy pre-packaged dried flower and pre-rolls once available,” the department of health wrote in its statement from last month’s announcement of the change.
Smokable cannabis flower will only be available to patients and caregivers aged 21 and older who are registered with the state’s medical cannabis program. Minnesota Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm urged patients who are considering switching to cannabis flower to seek the advice of a health care professional before making the change.
“Patients need to weigh the risks of smoking medical cannabis, including those related to secondhand smoke and lung health, with any potential benefits,” said Malcolm. “Smokable cannabis may not be right for everyone; patients should have a conversation with their health care practitioner for guidance.”
The Minnesota Department of Health also announced last month that medical patients will have another new option later this year, noting that edible cannabis products including gummies and chews will become available on August 1. The change in regulations was made last year during an annual petition and comment process that the MDH uses to solicit public input on potential additions to qualifying medical conditions and cannabis delivery methods.