Recreational marijuana is getting big. So big, in fact, that it just might completely overtake its medicinal counterpart. In the US today, 30 states... Cannabis Cannibal: US Medicinal Marijuana Programs Struggling to Survive Amid Recreational Legalization

Recreational marijuana is getting big. So big, in fact, that it just might completely overtake its medicinal counterpart.

In the US today, 30 states have lifted a century-long prohibition on marijuana with eight of them legalizing adult-use cannabis for recreational purposes. The first states to legalize back in 2012 were Colorado and Washington. At the time, the focus was placed on this historic vote and how society as a whole would react to the change in legislation. Soon afterward, talk of legalizing recreational marijuana swept the nation. Those brave enough to test out medicinal programs were among some of the first to decriminalize marijuana completely. Allowing for recreational marijuana in these states has decreased incarceration rates, improved marijuana quality and safety, offered a new tax opportunity to states, helped authorities focus on solving more violent crimes, and has helped to reduce marijuana-related gang violence in urban areas. The list is seemingly endless. Widespread legalization made itself out to be the solution to a multitude of problems plaguing society, its benefits to be celebrated each April, but ever since, medicinal predecessors have faced hardship.

In the months and years following marijuana decriminalization, states that already had an established medical marijuana program saw a hefty decline in patient count according to data collected from their state-mandated marijuana programs. Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada were among those that saw this steady decline. In 2014, when Colorado lifted its ban on recreational weed, the state’s medicinal marijuana programs experienced a 22 percent drop in patient count. This decline is minor when compared to what other states went through, and market analysts credit this outcome to the state’s cheaper medical marijuana cards and lower taxes on medicinal purchases. Oregon, however, was not as lucky. The state saw the most expansive decline of all when its recreational market launched in October of 2015. The state’s patient count for its marijuana program fell an approximate 42 percent. More recently, Nevada saw its patient count go down by 32 percent in October 2017 following the opening of its own recreational market. This translates to an estimated 5 percent drop per month since adult-use marijuana was legalized within the state. In June, Nevada’s medicinal marijuana program’s patient count took an even harder hit when it took a nosedive and hit below the 17,000-patient benchmark. This latest decline marks the first time that the patient count has fallen below that point since March of 2016. With these concurrent trends in mind, people are beginning to ask themselves, what does this mean for the medicinal market?

While Colorado has experienced its own ups and downs where medicinal marijuana is concerned, it has fared better than other states. Sales in the state’s medicinal cannabis market increased annually in the first years after recreational use was permitted up until last year where it fell for the first time. In 2018, patient counts and product sales are experiencing lows for the second year in a row. The reason for these declines can be attributed to patients opting for recreational retailers with higher accessibility as the path towards a legal medical marijuana card can be obstructed by regulations, fees, and a lengthy application process before awaiting approval. Patients diagnosed with painful illnesses that can be treated with medicinal marijuana often times require higher-potency cannabis to relieve the side effects of their diseases. However, because they may be avoiding the lengthy process involved with applying for a medicinal marijuana card, these patients will oftentimes choose to go to recreational retailers to get their weed. As the country overall becomes more comfortable with the idea of legalizing marijuana and even the most conservative among us change their minds where this controversial drug is concerned, things only look bleaker for medicinal retailers who might be faced with more competitors if nationwide legalization is passed. It would seem that medicinal retailers will have to do something to encourage patients to apply for medical cannabis cards, and only time will tell if the market can find a way to even itself out.

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