Chart: Sharp rise in Minnesota medical marijuana patients buoys businesses

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By Eli McVey

The number of medical marijuana patients in Minnesota more than quadrupled in 2016, breathing life back into an industry some observers feared was unsustainable.

Chalk it up to the addition of intractable pain to the state’s list of qualifying conditions, which had an immediate and dramatic impact on patient counts.

That growth helped bolster the two vertically integrated businesses supplying Minnesota’s MMJ market, both of which had been struggling because of low patient counts.

Minnesota’s MMJ patient registry ballooned by 3,129 in 2016 to hit more than 4,000, with 82% of the growth coming after intractable pain was added in August.

Patients with intractable pain also have quickly become the largest single group of participants in the program, accounting for 46% of the total, according to the latest official report from the state that breaks down the registry by medical condition.

That report was issued in October, so the portion of patients who received MMJ cards for help with intractable pain has likely risen even more.

Minnesota’s medical marijuana program desperately needed the boost.

Weak patient counts before the addition of intractable pain cast doubts over whether the state’s two vertically integrated MMJ businesses – Leafline Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions – could make it in the long run.

In 2015, Minnesota Medical Solutions lost $3 million, while LeafLine Labs lost $2.2 million. Fewer than 1,000 patients were participating in the program at the end of 2015.

Although intractable pain has certainly had a positive impact on Minnesota’s MMJ program and its long-term sustainability, the state’s market is still relatively small.

High prices and a ban on smokable forms of marijuana could continue to hamper enrollment.

Eli McVey can be reached at