MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health announced its plans Wednesday to expand the state’s medical marijuana program.

MDH had a Jan. 1 deadline to decide if severe, chronic pain should join the list of qualifying conditions.

Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger says patients with intractable pain will be able to begin the application process in July. And if certified by their doctors, they could start buying medical marijuana in August.

“Pain management is a very difficult process,” Ehlinger said. “The existing tools are not always working well.”

Intractable pain is described as severe, chronic pain that is not curable. Ehlinger says he has heard from hundreds of Minnesotans who say they have it.

“We have an obligation to do all that we can to help those suffering from severe and persistent pain, and to help them avoid subsequent problems such as opioid addiction,” Ehlinger said.

Two state-approved growers and manufacturers of medical cannabis started selling the medication in liquid or pill form last July.

About 760 patients in Minnesota are qualified to buy it so far, and about 452 health care providers are certifying conditions.

Kim Kelsey says her 24-year-old son has epilepsy, and he had endured daily, serious seizures until he added medical marijuana to his treatment.

“We just actually had 18 days straight with no big seizures. That hasn’t happened in 20 of his 24 years,” Kelsey said. “If it helps a little, great. If it gives them some relief, awesome. But it could be the be-all-end-all.”

Patrick McLellan says taking medical marijuana through a vaporizer has helped with his muscular dystrophy.

“My spasms and pain level have decreased tremendously,” McLellan said. “Just about a week or so ago, my neurologist told me that I look better now than the last ten years.”

He says one month’s supply costs him about $250.

WCCO also heard from one of the manufacturers, Minnesota Medical Solutions.

“We’re excited about the increased patient base because that’s going to bring down patient costs,” Minnesota Medical Solutions’s Dr. Kyle Kingsley said.

MDH does expect enrollment to increase dramatically, but it might double, and that will likely reduce the cost of the medication to patients.

The state legislature could vote to reverse the commissioner’s decision this spring.

To register for the program, patients first have to talk with their doctor and make sure they are willing and able to certify your condition. Patients then have to register online with MDH.

Getting certification of the condition from a health care provider has proven to be the biggest challenge for some patients. Click here for more information on how to enroll.

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