Survey: Minnesota doctors taking wait-and-see approach to medical marijuana

Medical marijuana sold in Minnesota will be smoke-
Only smoke-free medical marijuana, sold as pills, oils or tinctures, will be available for qualifying patients, these ones sold at Minnesota Medical Solutions in Otsego, Minn.
Jennifer Simonson | MPR News

Some Minnesota doctors have said they don't want to take part in the state's medical cannabis program, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Minnesota Medical Association.

The survey went out to 14,000 physicians across the state just two days after Minnesota began registering patients for the program. Of the 500 doctors who responded, 68 percent said they don't plan to participate in the state's medical cannabis registry program, 9 percent said they plan to participate and 17 percent are undecided.

State law requires patients to register with the program and have their condition certified by a health care provider. Doctors don't prescribe cannabis: Instead, they assess patients' health and certify their diagnoses.

David Thorson, a physician and president-elect of the Minnesota Medical Association, said survey results reflect some doctors' uncertainty about the program.

"Physicians are trying very hard to do evidence-based medicine," he said. "I think this shows that the medical community is not as convinced that there is a significant benefit to using cannabis to treat those disease states."

The largest percentage of respondents identified as family medicine at 32 percent, followed by internal medicine at 11 percent and pediatricians at 7 percent.

State health officials say providers' opinions may change after they learn more about the program over the next few months.

Manny Munson-Regala, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health, said because the majority of respondents were primary care doctors, their patients are not generally able to benefit from using medical cannabis in oil or pill form.

"A number of the primary care providers think certification is more of a specialty work," he said. "It's really the oncologist's job, the neurologist's job, given the nature of the qualifying conditions, they're the ones who should be making the decision about certification."

But Thorson said most people with qualifying conditions like cancer and seizure disorder, see primary care doctors or pediatricians on a regular basis.

"I think it really is worrisome for patients who feel they have a disease that may benefit from being able to access medical marijuana," he said.

Munson-Regala warned against judgment about the medical cannabis program without additional data and studies the state is planning once distribution begins in July.

"I don't suspect we're going to be in a position to know what all this means until maybe six months after the program starts, maybe even a year," he said. "Let's be a little cautionary about the information we have at day three into going live."

Minnesota's medical marijuana registry has been open since June 1.