Minnesota Cannabis Prices Drive Patients to Buy Illegally

Some Minnesota medical patients are back to buying their drugs illegally due to cannabis prices hundreds or thousands of dollars higher than the street.

Data from the state shows, since the medical cannabis program launched in July, 20 per cent of all registered patients haven’t made a second purchase from the state-sponsored producers.

Buyers are pointing to Minnesota’s cannabis prices, a vial of oil can cost nearly $130, compared to Colorado where the same product is sold for less than half that amount, with none of the cannabis products covered by insurance.

Producers claim prices will fall in time, but it may not matter to some patients.

Patrick McClellan said his monthly costs for medical cannabis oil to cope with muscular dystrophy are $264.

“That’s a car payment,” McClellan said. “What we’re talking about is an expensive designer drug that only the rich can afford right now.”

McClellan said he can get a month’s supply of cannabis bud on the black market for $80. Under the Minnesota program, only pills and oil are available to purchase as state-approved treatment options. After stanch opposition from law enforcement, legislators excluded leaf products from the program. A decision that has forced some to rely on outside sources for their medicine.

While Minnesota’s program has offered relief to many patients since it began two months ago, it has also become obvious there are problems with the state program.

By excluding leaf products to patients, the product base is limited to harder to produce pills and oils. Cannabis law sponsor Senator Scott Dibble said the Minnesota Legislature is unlikely to allow the production of raw leaf anytime soon.

The small number of patients eligible to buy the medication means prices are staying high — only 491 are currently registered. And, while the state is considering extending the program to new patients with chronic pain in 2016, Minnesota only has two producers, meaning competition isn’t likely to drive down costs any time soon.

Crohn’s disease patient Jonathan Holmgren returned to using cannabis bud as an alternative to a $2,000 monthly bill from legal providers. Holmgren said the state-approved oils didn’t work as well as his previous source, which he paid $400 for.

He said while he’d rather buy through legal channels, they can’t compete with the price of the black market.

Cannabis producer Minnesota Medical Solutions’s chief executive Dr. Kyle Kingsley said he understands why some patients have returned to purchasing illegally.

“It breaks my heart that there are folks that are not able to access the program financially,” Kingsley said. “We’re busting our hump to make that right. It will improve over time.”

Both manufacturers in Minnesota said they currently offer discounts to low-income patients and are establishing charities to bring down prices.