Minnesota Medical Solutions, or "MinnMed" CEO Dr. Joseph Westwater says there are currently 17,000 patients in Minnesota with qualified conditions that may be treated with medical cannabis.
But Westwater says not every patient who tries medical marijuana can continue to use it, because it is not covered by insurance. Westwater joined a couple medical cannabis patients, both military veterans, to give an update on the number and types of Moorhead area patients who use medical cannabis. Westwater says there are about 400 patients in Moorhead who treat conditions with medical marijuana, and most of them are suffering from chronic pain or PTSD. He says that 2/3rds of patients who use medical marijuana report positive benefits, and that 60 percent of patients with opioid addiction have greatly minimized their opioid use or quit all together. He says opioid addiction is not currently a qualified condition for medical cannabis.
"The commissioner of health entertains petitions from patients to add new conditions. The hearings will start on this next month. There are several conditions that have been petitioned to be added, and one of them is opioid use disorder. We're hoping this information about people being able to minimize their use of opioids will allow us to have another arrow in our quiver in our efforts to fight the scourge of opioid addiction."
Military veteran Amy Wieser Willson lives in Moorhead. She says she's been dealing with chronic pain for 14 years, which prevented her from leaving her bed on some days. She says medical cannabis has been a game changer for her. She says a barrier to many patients seeking treatment with medical cannabis is the negative stigma around it.
"We really need to move past the stigma associated with marijuana - trust me when I say I'm not pounding bags of potato chips in a smoky room every night. This is very different. We need to just be a lot more comfortable, I think, being able to understand what this offers and move past some of the, "this is your brain on drugs" commercials we all grew up with. This isn't the same thing."
Mike Walters is also a military veteran, from Osage, Minnesota. He says he suffers from severe anxiety and PTSD, both of which are alleviated with his use of medical marijuana. He says he wants more patients who suffer to be able to experience relief.
"I've got veterans that I know could feel better tomorrow - but there's these stigmas like, oh they're gonna take away my disability, or they're gonna take away my guns, they're gonna do this, they're gonna do that. And it's sad. We have to try to educate people. I would love to have people feeling better today than waiting two or three years and going, God, I should have done that three years ago."
Westwater says Minnesota passed legislation to implement medical cannabis in 2014, and its program was up and partially running within a year. North Dakota voters passed medical marijuana in 2016, and its program is still in its implementation stages nearly two years later.