- Associated Press - Wednesday, November 4, 2015

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - An advisory panel cautioned Wednesday against expanding Minnesota’s medical marijuana program to include patients suffering chronic pain starting next year.

The recommendation from the panel’s medical experts to Department of Health Commissioner Ed Ehlinger is not a final say - it’s up to Ehlinger to make the decision by Jan. 1. But five of eight panel members voted against the possible expansion, arguing that there’s limited evidence of marijuana’s efficacy in treating pain and noting physicians’ reluctance to using the drug as a treatment.

“The recommendations reflect a range of views on the topic, as well as the desire for more clinical evidence regarding potential benefits and risks. While the recommendations are not binding, they are part of a set of information I will review,” Ehlinger said in a statement.

Adding intractable pain would drastically change Minnesota’s new medical marijuana program. Enrollment has been low since sales began this summer, exacerbating high costs for the drugs and scaring off some patients. State officials believe that adding pain could double or triple the number of customers.

If Ehlinger decides to expand the program, patients suffering intractable pain - defined in state law as pain that can’t otherwise be treated or cured - could start buying medical marijuana in August. The Legislature could also vote to reverse the commissioner’s decision.

Minnesota’s two medical marijuana manufacturers have started publicly advocating for the expansion, arguing that cannabis may treat pain better than many narcotics - without the risk of addiction or deadly side effects.

The panel’s recommendation runs counter to more than 400 public comments from residents, prospective patients and medical professionals who overwhelmingly supported an expansion to include pain patients.

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