By John Schroyer
A new day has dawned for Minnesota’s medical marijuana industry.
The two companies licensed to cultivate and sell marijuana in the state – LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions (MinnMed) – will benefit immensely from Wednesday’s decision to add intractable pain to the program’s list of qualifying medical conditions.
The move, announced by the state’s health commissioner, promises to catapult Minnesota’s sluggish market by helping boost the patient base significantly.
LeafLine Labs and MinnMed can now breathe a huge sigh of relief about the future – and potentially capture millions of additional dollars in sales annually.
“This is going to do wondrous things for the program,” said Kyle Kingsley, the CEO of MinnMed. “We’ve had so many patients that don’t currently qualify that obviously benefit from cannabis, and for them to have a solution on the horizon, it’s a huge relief for our team.”
LeafLine and MinnMed were looking at a fairly bleak immediate future, as less than 800 customers had signed up for the MMJ patient program as of last week.
An advisory panel recently recommended that the state refrain from adding intractable pain to the medical conditions list, but the state’s health commissioner – Dr. Ed Ehlinger – overrode the suggestion.
Kingsley and Manny Munson-Regala, the CEO of LeafLine, said they weren’t worried about their own companies given the low patient count as much as they were concerned about the availability of cannabis to those who need it.
“We had planned on having a sustainable business without pain, but obviously it makes our job easier,” said Munson-Regala. “We will be in a position to help a lot more patients and possibly save some lives.”
“If you look at other states where pain is a stand-alone condition … you see pain as anywhere from two to ten times all the other conditions,” Munson-Regala noted.
Kingsley predicted that the addition of intractable pain would at least double or triple the number of patients.
“But it could be substantially more than that,” he added, indicating that the patient pool could grow by several thousand, if not more.
In Colorado, for example, severe pain was at least one of the conditions cited by over 93% of the state’s 114,767 medical marijuana cardholders as of September. It was also the top condition cited by every patient over the age of 17 (seizures were the most common MMJ condition for the age group 17 and under).
In Minnesota, there are just nine other conditions under which patients can legally get access to MMJ – so the addition of intractable pain will be huge.
The resulting growth of the patient base will also have ripple effects, including possible price cuts, Kingsley said (MinnMed was forced to increase its prices in August). That in turn will allow other patients to sign up and begin paying for MMJ, simply because they’ll be able to afford it.
“The great thing is that’s going to allow us to lower prices for patients and do economies of scale,” Kingsley said. “It’s going to be a snowball effect, and that’ll make it accessible to a lot more patients here in the state. So between the improved price point and the inclusion of pain, I think we’re looking at substantially more patients for Minnesota.”
Just how many more people may register for the program is still unclear, and the addition of intractable pain doesn’t even kick in until next August.
So it likely will be some time before MinnMed and LeafLine see a huge boom in customers at their dispensaries.
Kingsley also said that because of the timeline, MinnMed won’t change plans announced earlier this year to delay the opening of two additional dispensaries (on top of the two it already operates) until this spring.
But the company will be ramping up production of medication in anticipation of more customers come next August, Kingsley said.
“We will be increasing production. We’ll definitely have to do that,” Kingsley said. “We are going to see what patient numbers do through the Spring, and we’re going to make final decisions about February as far as the ramp-up process.”
MinnMed will also be releasing a new line of pain-centric medications, to cater directly to the new customer base.
There are also limitations to the intractable pain definition.
In some other states, chronic pain or pain of nearly any sort is a qualifying condition. In Minnesota, though, intractable pain refers to only the type of pain that can’t be otherwise treated or removed. So, for example, a patient with pain due to an operation that will eventually heal would not be eligible.
“I don’t anticipate it being as open a condition as pain would be in California or in some of the other early MMJ states,” said Bob Capecchi, director of federal policies at the Marijuana Policy Project.
But, he added, the addition of intractable pain is still “really good news for the program.”
John Schroyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org