At times, understanding the status of marijuana across the country is daunting. With so many different levels of legalization, we’re left asking, “can’t we all just agree?” This month, officials in Minnesota brought us one step closer to consensus about which medical conditions should be treated with medical marijuana. The state has joined many others in adding chronic pain to that list.
Not all medical marijuana is created equal
Some states have taken steps toward medical marijuana, without fully allowing access to it. For instance, 16 states permit medical cannabidiol or CBD – widely accepted as marijuana’s key therapeutic compound – but not the entire plant. Some states allow CBD to be used only in clinical studies, or only allow consumption of medical marijuana obtained legally in another states.
Within the 24 states (including Washington, D.C.) with fully accessible medical marijuana programs, the fine print can vary wildly. Residency requirements, formulation restrictions, rules for home growing: all of these are different from state to state. Another aspect that policymakers must debate is the list of medical diagnoses that can qualify someone to access medical marijuana.
Illinois is the most liberal state when it comes to qualifying diagnoses, recognizing a whopping 45 conditions. The bulk of medical marijuana programs permit around a dozen. If there’s one condition that comes close to being universally accepted, it’s epilepsy. Of the 38 states that have programs in varying levels of development, severe seizure disorders can be found on the qualifying lists of all but 2.
Marijuana has undeniable value for chronic and debilitating pain
While seizure disorders are the most universally accepted, chronic pain is another that is widely recognized. When Minneosta added “intractable pain” condition to its list, it became the 19th state to do so, joining the clear majority. Intractable pain is defined by Minnesota law as a condition “in which the cause of the pain cannot be removed or otherwise treated… no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts.”
Minnesota, in particular, has some of the tightest restrictions on its medical marijuana program. Consumption is limited to pill, vapor, or liquid form. Only two manufacturers in the state are authorized to grow and process the medicine. Adding an additional qualifying condition to the law represents a step forward in relaxing the limiting parameters of this program.
Another positive sign came from Minnesota’s Commissioner of Health, Dr. Ed Ehlinger, who was responsible for the change in the law. Dr. Ehlinger stated that compelling testimonies from Minnesotans were part of what drove him to add intractable pain to the list. This is a startlingly compassionate and human reason for a lawmaker to cite, and serves as a shining reminder that perhaps not all politicians are heartless or uncaring.