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Rhode Island Sees Decline In Medical Marijuana Sales After Adult-Use Launch

The legalization of adult-use cannabis is a hot topic in many states across the country. While it brings many new consumers and revenue to the industry, it often comes at a cost for medical marijuana programs.

Rhode Island, which recently launched its adult-use market, is no exception. In fact, the state has seen a significant decline in medical marijuana sales since legalizing it for adult-use. This trend of medical sales dropping after a state legalizes adult-use cannabis is one that has been observed in many other states as well. Understanding this issue is crucial for advocates and policymakers to ensure the needs of medical patients are not forgotten in the pursuit of profit from recreational cannabis.

Rhode Island’s Record Adult-Use Sales and Decrease in Medical Purchases

In September, Rhode Island saw a record-breaking month for adult-use marijuana sales. Licensed retailers sold over $7 million of recreational cannabis products, the highest amount since legal sales to adults began in December 2022. However, these numbers were not reflected in medical marijuana purchases, which hit an all-time low since the launch of adult-use sales.

This decline in medical sales has been a consistent trend since the state legalized adult-use cannabis. Despite record-breaking numbers in recreational sales, medical marijuana patients seem to be shifting toward the new adult-use market. This is a concerning trend as it raises questions about the impact on medical patients and their access to quality products.

The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation reported that total marijuana sales for September were $9,633,351.50, just shy of the previous month’s record of $9,672,793.26.

In terms of product types by item, September had record sales of cannabis concentrates and pre-rolls. On the other hand, edibles, pre-packaged flower, tinctures, topicals, and vape carts all saw lower numbers compared to August. This suggests a shift in consumer preferences towards different product types in the adult-use market.

Notably, the number of active registered medical marijuana patients also fell to 10,817 in September. This is almost a third less than the 15,062 active patients in December 2022 when adult-use sales were launched. This decrease raises concerns about the accessibility and affordability of medical marijuana for those who rely on it for their health needs.

The decline in medical marijuana sales after legalization for adult-use is not unique to Rhode Island. It has been observed in other states that have also legalized recreational cannabis.

For example, a report from AZMIRROR in 2022 highlights Arizona’s medical sales drop after adult-use legalization, stating, “Cannabis sales in Arizona continue to be robust overall, thanks to the continued explosion of recreational sales.

But as adult-use recreational sales are increasing, medical marijuana totals are in a free-fall that began last year.”

“The Arizona Department of Revenue reports that recreational cannabis sales were almost $75.5 million — which would have been an increase of nearly $3 million over the previous month if not for an $8 million upward revision of March totals.

Given that increase, March’s $80.4 million in sales became the best month since adult-use recreational sales began in January 2021.

On the medical side, sales declined for the sixth consecutive month, dropping to slightly less than $47 million. It is only the second time medical sales have been less than $50 million since recreational sales began.”

Possible Factors Contributing to the Decline in Medical Marijuana Sales

The decrease in medical marijuana sales after adult-use legalization can be attributed to several factors. One of the main reasons is that individuals no longer need a medical recommendation from a doctor to purchase cannabis products. In states where recreational use is legal, anyone over 21 can walk into a dispensary and buy cannabis without a medical script.

This convenience may have led some medical marijuana patients to switch to purchasing from the adult-use market.

Additionally, recreational consumers do not have to be included in a state-wide registry like medical cannabis patients, which some may see as an invasion of their privacy, which may be a significant factor for those who prefer to keep their medical cannabis use private.

Moreover, the adult-use market often offers a broader variety of products compared to medical marijuana programs. In some states, medical patients are limited to certain product types and potency levels prescribed by their healthcare provider. This can be a barrier for those seeking specific strains or consumption methods that may not be available in medical dispensaries.

Finally, the cost of obtaining a medical marijuana card and renewing it annually may deter some individuals from participating in their state’s program. In contrast, recreational users do not have to pay for any special licenses to purchase cannabis products.

The Benefits of Being a Medical Marijuana Patient

While the decline in medical marijuana sales after adult-use legalization may be concerning, there are still significant benefits to being a registered medical patient. These include cost savings and tax exemptions, enhanced legal protection, higher possession limits, and continuous care from healthcare professionals experienced in cannabis treatment.

One of the most significant advantages of having a medical marijuana card is the potential for cost savings and tax exemptions. Medical marijuana is often less expensive than recreational cannabis due to tax differences. This can make a significant difference for those who require daily or frequent use of medicinal cannabis.

For example, in California, medical marijuana users pay less tax than adult non-medical users. Depending on the municipality, recreational marijuana consumers pay retail and excise taxes ranging from 27.5% to 40.75%. Patients who use cannabis for medical purposes pay only the excise tax plus a municipal cannabis company tax for a total tax rate on cannabis that ranges from 15% to 19.75%.

In addition to cost savings, medical marijuana patients also enjoy enhanced legal protection. With a valid medical card, patients are protected from prosecution by law enforcement as long as they are using cannabis within the boundaries of the law. This is particularly beneficial in states where recreational use is not yet legal, and possession of cannabis without a card can result in criminal charges.

Medical marijuana patients also have higher possession limits than non-cardholders, which is especially important for those who require larger doses to manage chronic conditions. Even in states where recreational use is legal, the possession limits for non-cardholders are significantly lower, making it difficult for patients to access the amount of medicine they need without a medical card.

Perhaps one of the most valuable benefits of being a registered medical patient is continuous care from healthcare professionals experienced in cannabis treatment. These doctors can track and recommend the best course of treatment for each individual patient, ensuring they get the most therapeutic benefits from medicinal cannabis. This level of expertise and guidance is not typically available for recreational users.

Overall, while the focus on adult-use sales may overshadow the medical program in states where both are legal, there are still significant benefits to being a registered medical marijuana patient. From cost savings and legal protections to higher possession limits and continuous care from experienced healthcare professionals, having a medical card ensures patients have access to safe, effective, and affordable cannabis treatments for their conditions.

So, it’s essential to recognize the importance of medical marijuana programs and continue to support and prioritize them alongside adult-use sales. After all, both markets serve different purposes and can coexist in a way that benefits everyone – patients, consumers, and the industry as a whole.


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