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How plummeting medical marijuana cardholder rolls are transforming the cannabis industry landscape

Out of the 30-plus states that have instituted medical marijuana programs, about a third have legalized recreational marijuana. Michigan and Illinois are the most recent entries into the legal recreational cannabis market. In each and every instance, in the years following the launch of recreational sales, the number of medical marijuana patients has plummeted. What does this mean for the industry at large?

The falling medical patient numbers are due, in part, to the fact that a fair percentage of medical marijuana cardholders are using the drug recreationally. It’s also partly due to the ease of access to recreational pot and shrinking access to medical cannabis. And in some cases, the trend is due to the rising price of medical marijuana products.

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Moreover, many medical patients simply do not bother to involve the healthcare system in their marijuana consumption. For patients, this can mean a vast reduction in the number of medical dispensaries and product options and an increase in prices. But what does it mean for the industry at large?

How much has the medical cannabis market shrunk?

According to a report published recently by the Associated Press:

  • Colorado has lost about one-fifth of its medical marijuana cardholders since recreational pot was launched in 2014.

  • In Alaska, the number of medical cardholders dropped by nearly two-thirds after recreational sales began in 2016.

  • In Nevada, more than six in ten medical patients have given up on medical marijuana.

  • In Colorado, medical sales have fallen by nearly one-fifth since 2014.

  • Since recreational marijuana became legal in California, the price of a number of popular medical strains has risen from about $10 per gram to upwards of $100 a gram.

  • In Oregon, since recreational legalization, THC in edibles has been capped at 100 mg but prices haven’t fallen in parity.

  • As a result of falling flower prices, many patients who do not want to smoke or vape dry bud have begun to make their own concentrates at home.

  • Demand for flower has greatly increased, while stocks of specialized oils, tinctures, and edibles often used by medical patients have gone down, causing a rise in price.

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Chart shows the impact of legalizing recreational marijuana on medical marijuana patient counts in Colorado, Oregon, and Nevada.

“Patients have needs. Consumers have wants. Patients are in crisis right now.” - Anthony Taylor, medical marijuana advocate and member of Oregon Cannabis Commission

What has been the impact of falling medical marijuana sales on the cannabis industry?

The overall effect of the exodus of medical patients has, in many cases, resulted in recreational shops prospering while the few remaining medical dispensaries struggle to keep their doors open.

“Some of the products that these patients have relied on for consistency—and have used over and over for years—are disappearing off the shelves to market products that have a wider appeal.” –David Mangone, director of government affairs for Americans for Safe Access, (AP)

Again, according to the Associated Press recent report:

  • In Oregon, the number of medical-only retail shops has fallen from 400 to two.

  • Hundreds of Oregon growers previously contracted to grow specific strains for individual patients have ended the practice.

  • Los Angeles dispensary owner Jerred Kiloh claims his medical business has dipped to 7% of overall sales and continues to fall.

  • Oregon sales of medical marijuana have fallen to less than a tenth of total sales.

  • The shrinking number of medical dispensaries has prompted regulators in some states to consider allowing home delivery.

  • Many medical marijuana patients are turning to caregivers and illicit sources to save money, taking sales away from licensed growers and sellers.

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There are not many business owners who see any benefit in continuing to serve a fast-deflating market. However, there are still an estimated 2.4 million medical marijuana buyers nationwide and, therefore, still opportunities for licensed producers and medical cannabis brands with a passion for the medicinal market. The rest will opt to focus on the lower hanging fruit.

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