Wellness and Research

Medical Programs are Nosediving in Recreational States, and this May be Harmful to Patients

Petar Petrov
Written by Petar Petrov

Amidst the passionate quest for recreational cannabis legalization, something important seems to have gone overlooked—how it would affect the medical cannabis market. It turns out, it’s affecting it badly, to say the least.

The advent of recreational cannabis means companies and retailers start prioritizing products with a wider appeal, as any normal business would. As a result, a lot of specific products, products that may seem like a whim to a recreational user, but are a necessity for patients with serious conditions, become more and more exclusive and harder to find, and respectively much more expensive—in the ballpark of by a factor of 3. And when you add the fact that a lot of the people in medical cannabis programs have low incomes because of their conditions, you get a recipe for disaster.

This is reflected in the drastic decline of medical cannabis cardholders. In Oregon, a staggering two-thirds of patients had to part with their medical cards, and while this is the state where the medical cannabis program has taken the biggest hit, this plummet doesn’t represent an overly abnormal statistic. In Alaska, the number of cardholders has gone down by 63% since 2016 when recreational cannabis came in the picture. In Nevada, the number is 40%, but since 2017, so it could easily reach Alaska’s.

Pretty much the same trend is evident in the number of strictly medical retail shops, but it’s even starker. In Oregon, that number has gone from 400 to just 2.

On top of that, as states like Michigan brace for the legalization of recreational cannabis, licensing systems for medical dispensaries have to be reworked, which takes time. Respectively, this lag could create a bottleneck that leads to a shortage of products that patients have come to rely on.

In other states like Washington and California, the line between the recreational and medical cannabis markets is becoming increasingly blurrier because not many companies are willing to cater to a target audience that is diminishing by leaps and bounds. For many businesses, medical cannabis accounts for less than 10% of overall sales.

And if all that wasn’t discouraging enough, general legalization has also brought down the limit for edible potency, but their price has stayed the same. While that precaution is understandable from a recreational user’s safety standpoint, for medical patients who already consume responsibly, it not only means paying more for less, but getting the required dosage would require eating tones of candy, sending many patients out of the frying pan and into the fire. Pretty much the same goes for patients who turn to homegrown cannabis to take care of their drastic needs, because unless they know how to make concentrates and edibles, they’d have to do lots of smoking.

Some lawmakers are starting to address these issues, but they have a long way to go. Meanwhile, many patients are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers who are willing to forego their business instincts and turn to their humanitarian ones, selling the required products at their initial cost. And for every person who’d be willing to do that, there’s more than a few people in need—odds that nobody would willingly bet on.

Image Credits: David Kovaluk/ St. Louis Public Radio

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Petar Petrov

Petar Petrov

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