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Minnesota health officials have kept sloppy records of medical cannabis operations and need to step up oversight of the growing program, the state's legislative watchdog said in a report released Tuesday.

Internal controls from the Department of Health were "generally not adequate" in a slew of areas, from enrolling patients and processing fees to monitoring lab tests and tracking the drugs, the Office of the Legislative Auditor found. The audit was conducted from July 2016 through December 2018.

"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 Health Department did not always verify that licenses of certifying health care practitioners were active and in good standing, the auditor found. State health officials did not keep valid documentation for minors who use medical cannabis, nor did they reconcile all fees for patients or ensure that the two manufacturers had a formal contract with a testing laboratory.

The department also did not ensure the manufacturers tracked and tested medical cannabis before sale. And it did not have the controls to detect instances where medical cannabis was lost.

In a letter to Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles last week, state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm agreed with most of the findings and outlined improvements the department has made.

Starting in April, Malcolm said, the department will check its registry of health care practitioners quarterly for ineligible or inactive doctors.

The commissioner has also tapped state officials to help improve the registry that stores information on the parents and guardians of minor patients. Staff from MNIT Services are ready to deploy changes by March 30, pending a review from the Office of Medical Cannabis.

The state needs a centralized system that can track medical cannabis from seed to sale, Malcolm said, ensuring proper testing and detection of lost product. That will require state funding, she said, which the department will seek from the Legislature in the future.

Malcolm noted that the issues outlined in the auditor's report are not unusual growing pains for a program created just five years ago.

More than 18,000 patients are now enrolled in the medical cannabis program. Medical marijuana is legal here in the form of pills and inhalable oils for patients with certain health conditions.

"While there are now 33 states where medical cannabis is legal, the regulation of medical cannabis in Minnesota and across the country is still in its early stages of development" Malcolm said.

Dr. Kyle Kingsley, founder of Minnesota Medical Solutions, referred to the auditor's report as a snapshot of errors that have been fixed over the past few years. Overall, he said, the program is helping people in pain get much-needed relief.

"The thing that's often missed is we are helping thousands of Minnesota patients avoid opioids," Kingsley said.

The Health Department isn't the only body that has not adequately overseen the program. A state task force charged with evaluating the medical cannabis program has largely sat idle. It hasn't met since Jan. 25 of last year, and before that, it hadn't met for two years. Sixteen of its 23 seats are vacant.

Ryan Faircloth • 612-673-4234 Twitter: @ryanfaircloth