In the first of a series of talks focusing on the issue of recreational marijuana legalization, hundreds of Minnesota doctors gathered in Minneapolis to share their views on the issue. To gather input from those doctors, the Minnesota Medical Association conducted a survey of its 600 member physicians. According to the survey, a majority of Minnesota doctors consider adult-use cannabis an important or very important issue. But the survey also gathered data on where doctors stand on adult use, revealing a fairly even split between support for legalization, opposition to it and the view that Minnesota doctors should remain neutral but still involved in policy discussion.
Doctors’ Medical Fields Shaped Views on Cannabis Legalization
Most Minnesota doctors want to be involved in discussion, education and research on the topic of adult-use marijuana legalization. But when it comes to their specific stance on the question of legal weed, Minnesota doctors are divided. According to a Minnesota Medical Association survey, more than a third of its members, 39 percent, oppose recreational legalization. Comparatively, 27 percent support a legal weed. 32 percent believe the Minnesota Medical Association should take a neutral stance neither for nor against legalization.
That’s a wide range of opinions. And it seems that where doctors fall on the issue is at least partially due to their specialization and experiences. Dr. Emily Bannister, an occupational medicine physician who opposed recreational legalization, says she has concerns because of what she sees in her office. “The recreational marijuana piece concerns me because of what I do in occupational medicine. I’m worried about people being impaired. I’m worried about people being impaired on the job or when they’re driving.”
Dr. Carter Casmaer, however, sees things differently. Casmaer is an emergency physician, and he supports legalizing marijuana for adult use. “I treat overdoses all night, I did it on my last shift,” Casmaer said. “I don’t see marijuana overdoses and I won’t see marijuana overdoses. Prohibition is a failed policy.”
Then, there are physicians like Dr. Minoj Doss, whose field is environmental medicine. Doss thinks the MMA should adopt a neutral opinion and instead focus on education and doing due diligence.
Doctors Want a Hand Shaping Minnesota Marijuana Laws
Views about marijuana legalization and medical cannabis treatments vary widely among medical professionals. But as a whole, the medical community has been one of the more reluctant groups to embrace new attitudes and new policies about weed. Several states’ medical marijuana programs struggled in their early stages to get enough doctors on board, and Minnesota is a prime example.
As of March 2019, Minnesota had authorized almost 1,500 health care practitioners to certify patients for medical cannabis treatments. But the Office of Medical Cannabis, within Minnesota’s Department of Health, doesn’t provide a list of qualified doctors. Furthermore, just 30 doctors are responsible for certifying half of Minnesota’s roughly 23,000 patients.
On top of that, patients face access issues, especially in rural areas, lose gun rights if they become a cannabis patient and only qualify if they have one of 13 conditions. As a result, patients are dropping out of Minnesota’s medical marijuana program en masse. Minnesota has been a medical-marijuana state since 2014. But it’s program is one of the most restrictive in the United States.
Now, as Minnesota lawmakers begin pushing bills to legalize cannabis for adult-use, Minnesota doctors say they want to be part of the policy discussion. But it’s important to become educated, first. “It’s a good time for us to learn more about this and then make a more informed decision,” said MMA member Dr. Wood. Dr. Casmaer, however, believes there’s nothing neutral about taking a neutral stance on legalization. “By taking that stance of prohibition we’re actively harming the public,” Casmaer said.
Minnesota doctors may not yet see eye to eye on adult-use marijuana. But at least they’re having a serious discussion about it.