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Minnesota medical marijuana patients report 'substantial benefits'

Dr. Ed Ehlinger, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, speaks to the media about opiate overdoses during a Friday, April 14, 2017, press conference. Robb Jeffries / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minnesota medical marijuana patients report significant benefits of its use, according to a recent survey released by the state.

A majority of patients said they believed the benefits of switching from other medication to medical cannabis have been substantial, according to early data from a Department of Health survey of patients from July 1, 2015, through June 30, 2016..

Using a rating scale from 1 (no benefit) to 7 (great deal of benefit), 64 percent of respondents gave a 6 or 7 when asked how much benefit they think they received from using medical marijuana. Only 9 percent of respondents gave a 1, 2 or 3 for that question.

"Based on this evidence from the first year, Minnesota's approach is providing many people with substantial benefits, minimal side effects and no serious adverse events," said Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger.

Less than 25 percent of patient respondents said they experienced negative side effects from using medical marijuana. To date, no medical marijuana patients in Minnesota have experienced severe enough side effects to require hospitalization.

"We are not at all surprised by these extremely positive results," said Dr. Andrew Bachman, CEO and co-founder of LeafLine Labs, one of two medical cannabis producers in the state. "We have the privilege of seeing patients every day that have benefited from our life-changing medicine and care, whether through symptomatic treatment, cure, or just a better quality of life in general. It's been very humbling, we are honored to be part of that experience, and we will never take lightly our responsibility to all qualifying patients who have entrusted their health and well-being to us."

Not every aspect of the program received rave reviews, though. Patients also indicated in the survey that cost continues to be a large hurdle. "Bring the costs down" were a common response to prompts on how to improve the program. With 1 being very affordable and 7 being very prohibitive, more than half of respondents called the costs of medical marijuana a 6 or 7, and 86 percent responded with 4 or higher.

"LeafLine Labs is committed to our medicine and care being first & ultimately accessible," Bachman said. "Only 22 months after first opening our Care Center doors, our average monthly cost is already less than $200 per month, and we are excited to continue that trend as the program continues to grow."

Financial adjustments may come slow, as both of Minnesota's medical cannabis manufacturers continue to operate in the red. Financial documents show LeafLine Labs reported a $4.7 million loss in 2016 after losing $2.2 million a year earlier, according to the Associated Press. Minnesota Medical Solutions fared better, operating at a $1.2 million loss last year compared to more than $3 million in 2015.

A MinnMed spokesman pointed to increased revenues — from less than $500,000 in 2015 to more than $2 million last year — as a sign for optimism.

"We certainly hope to break even in 2017, but since we are not yet halfway through the calendar year, it is a bit premature to make a projection," he said.

Robb Jeffries

Robb Jeffries is a news coordinator for Forum News Service. He is a graduate of the University of North Dakota and previously served as a reporter and copy editor for the Grand Forks Herald. Reach him at rjeffries@forumcomm.com and follow him on Twitter at @robbjeffries.

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