ST. PAUL (AP) - Minnesota health officials have decided to allow residents with chronic pain to buy medical marijuana starting in August.

Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger announced the decision at a news conference Wednesday. Ehlinger called it "the right and compassionate choice" to give new hope to suffering patients.

The expansion is expected to drastically increase the number of patients in the program, which has low enrollment due in part to its strict rules. Medical manufacturers also have said adding more patients is the key to lowering high costs that have scared some patients away.

Members of the public overwhelmingly backed adding chronic pain, while a panel of medical experts cautioned against it.