Medical cannabis

A medical cannabis dispensary has been proposed for Mankato.

MANKATO — A proposed medical cannabis dispensary in Mankato could improve accessibility, but affordability remains a barrier for many patients.

LeafLine Labs, one of Minnesota’s two medical cannabis manufacturers, is reportedly looking to double its number of treatment centers by adding sites in Mankato, Willmar, Golden Valley and Rogers.

Currently, patients in the Mankato area with certain qualifying conditions need to travel to Eagan or Rochester to access medical cannabis.

Jeremy Sankey, founder of the Minnesota Veterans for Cannabis advocacy group, said adding a Mankato dispensary could help people in southern Minnesota whose conditions make it difficult to travel.

“This is a step in the right direction on the accessibility side,” he said. “Not sure how it might help on the affordability side.”

The timeline on when LeafLine Labs could open a Mankato dispensary remains unclear. State law previously prevented medical cannabis manufacturers from adding more locations, but the limit has since been lifted.

Minnesota still has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country. Although the Minnesota Department of Health has gradually added more qualifying conditions to the program since it launched in 2015, costs have been a concern from the start.

State Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, said he consistently hears from constituents that the dispensaries in Eagan and Rochester are too far away and the medication is too costly. Widening the scope of eligible conditions and making it more geographically convenient, he added, could potentially bring more patients into the program and reduce costs.

“It was narrow in scope to start; that’s how we got the program through a bipartisan process in the first place,” he said. “Over time, seeing people come in with testimony and how it’s impacting their lives in a positive way, that’s helped push the dial that maybe we should expand it.”

The health department recently added macular degeneration and chronic pain as qualifying conditions for the medical cannabis program, although they won’t be official until August 2020. The decision also expanded delivery methods to include water-solubles including granules and powders and orally dissolvable products including lozenges.

The expansions don’t go far enough, Sankey said. He and his group are advocating for lawmakers to add the plant form to the available delivery methods.

Pennsylvania’s similarly restrictive medical cannabis program approved dry leaf or plant form sales for patient in 2018, after experiencing cost and access problems of its own. Sankey said he’s hopeful adding the plant form would truly drop costs and would mean more veterans don’t have to turn to the black market to find an affordable product.

“We shouldn’t have veterans who are forced to become criminals and break the law,” he said.

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