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Sanford, Essentia taking different approaches as Minn. legalizes medical pot

MOORHEAD - Minnesota's introduction today of medical marijuana--a program some consider one of the nation's most restrictive--appeared poised for a modest start.

Medical marijuana is displayed. REUTERS / MARIO ANZUONI

MOORHEAD – Minnesota's introduction today of medical marijuana-a program some consider one of the nation's most restrictive-appeared poised for a modest start.

Authorized providers must certify patients have certain qualified diseases, such as cancer, glaucoma, epilepsy or multiple sclerosis. Only certified patients can register to obtain marijuana at one of eight designated dispensaries, including one here.

Gearing up for the new law has been a challenge for local health systems that must navigate the option of incorporating into medical practices a controlled substance that lacks Food and Drug Administration approval or recognized treatment protocols.

Essentia Health has established a physician committee to review cases involving patients who have requested treatment with medical marijuana when proven treatments have failed to work well.

Physicians, physician assistants and nurse practitioners are troubled by the lack of information about medical marijuana's efficacy, side effects or drug interactions, said Dianne Witten, Essentia's corporate director of pharmacy, who was involved in drafting the health system's policy.


"Because of those concerns, we want to have a measured approach," she said Tuesday.

"There isn't a lot of research out there," Witten added. "That was part of the interest in Minnesota policy," which will involve studying medical marijuana's effects and effectiveness.

"We have been out and talked to a lot of our health care practitioners, particularly the physician group," Witten said. Essentia also has consulted professional groups, including the Minnesota Hospital Association.

Sanford Health has no formal, overall policy concerning medical marijuana.

"The decision to certify that a patient has a qualifying medical condition to use medical cannabis is left up to each individual provider," Dr. James Volk, Sanford's chief medical officer, said in a statement. "The provider must be licensed to practice medicine in Minnesota to have the ability to certify patients if they chose to. Sanford, as a health system, is not taking a position on medical marijuana."

Providers' discussions with patients, no matter what treatment, are based on scientific studies, and Sanford strives to get the best treatment for each condition, Volk said.

So far, 139 patients in Minnesota have been certified by their medical practitioner, and 65 of those are authorized to pick up medical marijuana today, according to the latest tally by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The number of health care practitioners authorized and registered to certify patients was 203, and another dozen have paperwork pending, according to state figures.


The Moorhead dispensary will be operated by Minnesota Medical Solutions at 104 7th St. S., a former Subway shop, and is slated to open in August.

Minnesota does not allow medical marijuana in leaf form. Therapeutic forms include vaporizers to heat oils, solutions and tinctures, and pills, tablets and capsules.

Minnesota Medical Solutions did not respond to a phone message left Tuesday requesting more information about opening its Moorhead dispensary. The Minneapolis-based company's website said it will accept cash only for the medical marijuana it dispenses.

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