Government watchdog says oversight of Minnesota medical pot program is lacking
ST. PAUL — Minnesota’s legislative watchdog says the state Department of Health is not doing enough to oversee the medical cannabis program.
An audit of the health department’s controls and compliance found seven ways the program that provides marijuana to patients for certain health conditions was not being correctly monitored. The audit examined the program’s operations from July 2016 to December 2018.
Minnesota lawmakers approved the medical pot program in 2014 and it now has about 17,000 patients. Last year, the state spent about $1.6 million administrating it.
Among the Office of the Legislative Auditor’s findings:
- Failure to verify new patients’ doctors were licensed and in good standing.
- Poor record-keeping for parent and guardian eligibility for the program.
- Problems with oversight of patient fees collected by the state.
- Inadequate oversight of cannabis manufacturers, including failure to adequately track and test the drug prior to sale.
- Too few controls to detect loss of medical cannabis by the manufacturer.
“Internal controls are particularly important for the state’s medical cannabis program due to the federal classification of marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance and the risk of its diversion for unauthorized purposes,” the report said.
The audit did not examine the state’s two medical cannabis providers, LeafLine Labs and Minnesota Medical Solutions, or gauge the firms’ compliance with state regulations.
Minnesota is now one of 33 states nationwide to allow cannabis to be used for medicinal purposes. The Minnesota program has struggled to remain viable because of strict regulations and it is expensive for both patients and growers.
Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm submitted a lengthy response to the audit that is included in the report. In it, health officials agreed with all of the audit’s findings and said they had taken numerous steps throughout 2019 to improve oversight.
Officials noted the state’s medical cannabis program is relatively new, enrolling patients in 2015 after being approved by the Legislature in 2014.
“However, we have worked consistently to build a strong program that prioritizes patient safety,” a statement from the Department of Health said. “As a part of this work, we place high priority on effective internal controls even as the cannabis industry evolves rapidly.”
Health officials also noted that improving state oversight of the medical cannabis program may take action from the Legislature.
House Democrats are expected to make a push this session to legalize recreational marijuana. The idea has the support of fellow Democrat Gov. Tim Walz, but faces opposition in the Republican-controlled Senate.