WJON In-Depth: Prescription Pot — Are The Costs Worth The Benefits? [VIDEO]
ST. CLOUD -- The use of medical cannabis is still a controversial topic in the United States. The federal government still considers marijuana a schedule-1 drug, meaning it has no medical use and is highly addictive. But 28 states, including Minnesota, have legalized marijuana to be used for medical purposes.
According to the Minnesota Department of Health, there are 6,184 patients using medical marijuana as of July 30 in the state. Tyler Rodgers is a St. Cloud resident. He is currently using medical marijuana.
Rodgers, who is a personal trainer, needs his body to be in peak physical condition to help his clients. With his body in pain, Rodgers says he was barely able to make it through the day.
"I was miserable. I was not happy, I was angry. I was in pain all the time. Just getting through the day was a struggle."
Rodgers says before he was prescribed cannabis he had to go through a lengthy process.
"I have been through several spine specialists, 17 or 18 different back injections, however many MRIs, X-rays and tests. Over 16 months I found my journey to end at intractable pain, that is what I was diagnosed with."
Medical marijuana has been legal since July 1, 2015. In the St. Cloud area, there are over 400 people currently prescribed medical marijuana.
"It is very expensive to get into it, to stay in it is just as expensive. Insurance doesn't do anything for the cost [and] there is an annual fee you have to pay."
Rodgers was offered opioids to help with his pain, but he turned them down for what he believes is a healthier option. Unfortunately, for Rodgers and many other medical cannabis patients, opioids would have been a much more cost-efficient option.
Medical marijuana is not covered by most health insurance providers while opioids are typically covered. Even though medical marijuana is legal in Minnesota, it is not an FDA approved drug so health insurance companies are not required to cover it.
"I know one of the concerns I have had, a lot of people come up to me and say I have an elderly parent who we think could really benefit from medical marijuana but it is just too expensive."
State Representative Tama Theis of St. Cloud voted for legalizing medical marijuana. She says the decision was about making sure everyone got the best chance at a happy and healthy life.
"There were a lot of kids, a lot more than I thought in Minnesota, that a parent would go to Colorado with their child and do the treatments. They were having wonderful results, and as a parent how do I tell anyone that I don't want you to get a treatment for your child."
Theis has heard a lot of positive feedback about the legalization of medical marijuana. But the problems she has heard are the same problems that Rodgers has experienced.
"How do we keep it more cost-effective for people to use."
Even though studies have shown medical marijuana has had a positive impact for most patients, the two retailers of medical marijuana have posted $11 million in combined losses over the past two years.
One of the reasons why some believe medical marijuana is struggling financially in Minnesota is because the state has the strictest laws of any state with medical marijuana.
Very few diagnoses are eligible to be prescribed cannabis. Minnesota only allows 13 different medical conditions to be prescribed medical marijuana, while some other states allow almost twice that. Rodgers says this is something we should look at changing.
"I think that we need to make it bigger, and well-known, and easier to get into."
While many people are excited about the opportunity to expand medical marijuana, Benton County Sheriff Troy Heck says we need to understand there are some drawbacks to making it more readily available.
"My concern is diversion. We see medications diverted all the time and I see no reason to believe that medicinal marijuana will be any different than [other prescription drugs]."
Theis says while the state has some adjusting that has to be done, it is hard to legalize something that the federal government still sees as illegal.
"What would really make this work a lot better is if the federal [government] would look at reclassifying cannabis."
Sheriff Heck says there is still a lot more information that is needed before we make marijuana available to more people.
"I would argue that before we go much further into any expansion of the use of this substance, either medical or recreational, that we [learn more] about marijuana before we say here is another group of people that can use marijuana."
Even though medical marijuana has a long way to go in Minnesota, people like Tyler Rodgers say it has already improved his life.
"I live better, I sleep better, I think better"
Theis says that she looks forward to seeing early results from Minnesota's first two years of legal medical marijuana. Theis says she and other legislators look forward to revisiting the bill during the next session.