MMA Board Votes to Take No Position on Recreational Cannabis Legalization

At its Nov. 9 meeting, the MMA Board of Trustees voted to not take a position on the issue of recreational cannabis, but rather serve as the voice of medicine by laying out seven public health considerations that should ensure state lawmakers keep public health in mind as they debate the topic.  

The policy recommendation came from the MMA Public Health Committee, which noted that as policymakers continue their conversations on whether Minnesota should legalize cannabis for recreational use, it is important that they take into consideration the public health and social impacts related to cannabis use.

The considerations in the MMA policy include:

a) Research has consistently shown that human brain development and maturation is not
complete until the age of 25. Therefore, individuals under the age of 25 should be prohibited from
purchasing, possessing or using cannabis or cannabis-infused products.

b) Cannabis use may increase the risk of developing psychiatric disorders, including psychosis
(schizophrenia), depression and anxiety, particularly among individuals with a preexisting
genetic or other vulnerability.

c) During pregnancy, cannabis use may increase the risk of low birth weight.

d) Additional addiction treatment capacity and resources may will be needed, as cannabis use
may increase the risk of developing substance use disorders.

e) Recognize the potential health risks, particularly among children and adolescents, associated
with various cannabis inhalation delivery systems, ingestion of edibles, and exposure to
secondhand smoke or vapor.

f) Drawing upon experiences with alcohol and tobacco regulation, careful attention to product
packaging, marketing and advertising is needed to prevent use by children and adolescents.

g) The importance of ongoing collection, analysis and dissemination of relevant public health
and safety data.

A bill to legalize cannabis for recreational use was introduced by Sen. Melissa Franzen (DFL-Edina) last legislative session. On March 7, a group of Minnesota physicians representing the specialties of addiction medicine, emergency medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, and psychiatry met at the MMA office to have a discussion on recreational cannabis. The meeting, which was called at Franzen’s request, allowed the opportunity for physicians to share medicine’s point of view on the topic.

Franzen’s bill received a hearing before the Committee on Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy on March 11 where it was voted down. While the Senate is almost certain to not revisit the issue in 2020, the House of Representatives is likely to consider the proposal in committee and it may receive a vote by the full House of Representatives. Given the Senate’s opposition, legislation to legalize cannabis for recreational use will not become law in 2020.  

To gather input on the issue of legalizing cannabis for recreational use, the MMA sent out a survey on May 13 to more than 8,600 members. Thirty-nine percent of respondents said that they want the MMA to oppose the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. Thirty-two percent said that the MMA should not take a position on the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, but rather advocate for policies that will protect the health of the public. Twenty-seven percent said the MMA should support the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, and 2 percent said they did not know what the MMA should do.

In regard to how engaged the MMA should be on the issue, 74 percent of respondents said that the MMA should be engaged, 14 percent said that the MMA should not be engaged, and 12 percent said that they did not know.

On June 6, the MMA held a policy forum on recreational cannabis. Not having current policy on the topic, the forum was held to educate physicians and physicians-in-training on the health effects of cannabis, and what legalizing recreational cannabis could mean for Minnesota. Attendees at the forum were from both primary care and non-primary care specialties.

Currently, 11 states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational cannabis. Gov. Tim Walz has expressed his support of legalizing it. Given the split legislature, it’s unlikely that legislation will gain traction in the upcoming session.