House Republican wants health commissioner's power to add marijuana conditions rescinded

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

Rep. Matt Dean, R-Dellwood, has never been much of a fan of medicinal marijuana.

Even as a lot of his fellow House Republicans crossed the aisle to approve a strict cannabis system in 2014, Dean was skeptical. To him, the whole thing looked like a slippery slope to the permissive marijuana code in California, where, eventually, more than a million people were using pot to treat a wide variety of ailments.

Indeed, last November, Californians cast ballots to legalize recreational marijuana outright.

Dean, a former House Majority Leader, has been less prescient with regards to Minnesota. Here, the medical cannabis program has expanded at a glacial pace, as overseen by Ed Ehlinger, the commissioner of health appointed by Gov. Mark Dayton (who has, himself, often seemed wary about weed). 

The law allowing pot in Minnesota gave the Department of Health control over any expansion to new patients. Ehlinger has used it sparingly. After a lot of input and more than a year's wait, he added "intractable pain" to the list of qualifying conditions

Intractable pain has a pretty serious sounding definition in state law:

[A] pain state in which the cause of the pain cannot be removed or otherwise treated with the consent of the patient and in which, in the generally accepted course of medical practice, no relief or cure of the cause of the pain is possible, or none has been found after reasonable efforts.

Or as Matt Dean thoughtfully described it at the time:


In early December, Ehlinger again allowed the marijuana condition list to grow, and again, only by one; this time, it was post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that cleared the bar. Eight other medical issues -- from depression, to insomnia, to arthritis -- were considered but rejected.

Clearly, the commissioner is treating gatekeeper to the pot garden judiciously. Some would argue he's been stingy.

Not Dean, evidently, who on Monday introduced a bill to remove the health leader's power to add qualifying conditions. Dean's bill simply crosses out the phrase "or any other medical condition or its treatment approved by the commissioner."

On its face, this looks like a retroactive strike. PTSD and intractable pain aren't included anywhere in the state law. If that power's removed, the Department of Health could lose the power to certify those patients' treatment going forward.

Dean's cynicism means more than that of just any other legislator. As chairman of the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee, he's got the gavel when it comes to health hearings. 

And when it comes time to write a human services budget bill, it's Dean who will be holding the pen -- or in this case, holding his finger above the "backspace" key.