In the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of states that have legalized recreational cannabis—and a lot of states that have legalized medical cannabis. Arizona is one of those states. In fact, it was one of the first to pass medical marijuana legislation, and it was incredibly popular for years.
But what’s happening now? Why are dispensary owners and patients alike abandoning their medical cards in favor of recreational cannabis? And what does this mean for patients who need higher potency products or other treatment options?
When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of the country, Arizona was no exception. In fact, Arizonans purchased nearly 106 tons of various forms of medicinal cannabis in 2020 as they coped with the pandemic.
However, throughout 2022, the Arizona Mirror has tracked a 7-month downward trend in medical marijuana sales, while the recreational market continues to set records. And now it’s become clear why: the seeds of the decline of the medical marijuana program began in June 2019, when Gov. Doug Ducey (R) signed Senate Bill 1494 into law. Among other things, SB1494 was intended to streamline the certification process by creating an electronic card system and lowering patient costs by extending the life of a card to two years. But after its implementation on July 1st, 2019—just three days before COVID-19 broke out—the number of people applying for new medical marijuana cards or renewing previously issued ones fell nearly by half.
The Complications Of Medical Cannabis
Marijuana is legal in Arizona, but the bureaucracy that makes it legal is still a little complicated.
While there are likely many reasons for patients to leave the program, the cost of certifications and the added inconvenience of the process have been cited by those who have left.
Green Valley resident and former medical cardholder Greg Knowles first got a card in December 2018, but recently let it expire because he did not purchase enough to make it worth his while. It’s also fairly difficult for cardholders to have their medical marijuana cards renewed due to the lack of accessible centers.
Bureaucratic roadblocks are pushing people away from medical and into recreational.
It seems that the recreational marijuana market has grown at the expense of medical dispensaries, according to co-owner and CEO of Sun Valley Health, Dustin Klein. He estimates that there has been a 30-50 percent drop in revenues for medical marijuana dispensaries since 2020.
However, other medical dispensaries seem to be doing just fine. Long wait times, low doses, and high taxes are some of the biggest consumer deterrents in the recreational market. In fact, medical marijuana dispensaries, like Dr. Reeferalz, are actually seeing increases in business, which operations manager Taryn Tia says is due to the novelty of recreational cannabis wearing off.
Medical cannabis programs are a necessary part of the cannabis industry, and they should remain protected. While we must continue to improve our recreational programs, they should not be used as “Trojan Horses” to usher in recreational cannabis.
Medical programs exist for a reason: they offer patients more access to cannabis, and they provide employment protections that recreational users do not enjoy. Patients also have greater freedom to possess cannabis than recreational users. In other words, medical programs are here to stay—and they should be protected!
Cannabis can and should coexist with both recreational and medical programs. Medical patients need safe access to this medicine, and recreational consumers deserve to purchase cannabis at normal, ethical prices.
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