Conference Room 316 at the Minnesota Capital

The Minnesota Task Force on Medical Cannabis Therapeutic Research, a 23-member group created to explore the impact of medical cannabis, met Tuesday for the first time in 17 months. If you think that’s a long time to go between meetings, you should know that their last meeting before that was January of 2017, almost exactly 24 months prior. So why does this committee, tasked with evaluating the state’s medical cannabis program, meet so rarely that legislation was actually introduced to require them to meet more often?

The answer, according to co-chair Rep. Mike Freiberg (DFL-45B) is that appointments took a little over a year to be made by Governor Tim Walz. At one point, Gov. Walz told the Pioneer Press that he was considering utilizing the group to reignite the political debate in the Minnesota Senate around legalization. Other state boards and commissions have experienced similar delays in appointments being made. Task Force members were named in February and, with COVID-related concerns, an initial meeting was pushed back until July 7th.

Another factor was that the task force was seen as “a coffee club” by many, including former member Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-61). Dr. Charles Reznikoff, an addiction medicine doctor and former task force member stated that “A lot of people mistake the task force as if we’re getting things done. We’re just a bunch of people that sit around a microphone and talk about cannabis.” The Task Force’s member makeup is a remnant of deals struck with the police association back in 2014 (as required by then-Gov. Mark Dayton). It has the same number of patient and patient advocates (four) as law enforcement officers.

Just for context, while the task force has met a total of 10 times since its inception, Minnesota continues to have one of the most restrictive and expensive medical cannabis programs in the country. More than half of the registered patients in 2017 did not register the following year. While the task force cannot fix the program’s issues, they can be offering analysis to the House and Senate on “program design and implementation”, “patient experiences”, and “access to and quality of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products”, as required by law.

OMC’s Director Chris Tholkes presents at Tuesday’s meeting

But now that the task force is up and running, what can we expect to see?

It’s likely there will be more exploration of the medical program and possible recommendations on improvements. The task force can serve as a powerful tool to research the program’s structure and identify needed improvements for patients. One task force member, Sensible Change MN’s Policy Director Maren Schroeder, would like the group to explore alternative delivery methods (such as the one voted down by the senate earlier in the year). While not an approval of raw flower, co-chair Sen. Jerry Relph (R-14) voiced concerns over the barrier to the medical program’s growth that is price and was open to exploring ways to lower that.

The reinvigorated Medical Cannabis Task Force meets again in the fall to begin work on a second Program Impact Assessment Report. The original report, released in early 2017, explored the programs design and implementation and identified a number of barriers to patient access. We can expect the new report to look quite similar. In fact, two sections from the 2017 report could be included verbatim:

“High cost of medical cannabis products is the most frequent complaint of enrolled patients about the program. In addition, the costs of getting to a cannabis patient center, the annual registration fee of $200 (reduced to $50 if the patient receives medical assistance), and the costs of certification office visits add to this burden.”

“The out-of-pocket costs to patients range from a couple of hundred to over a thousand dollars per month. Some patients report using less [medication] than they believe would be helpful to them because of the expense.”

You can watch a video of July 7th’s full meeting here: