Standing Up To Be Counted: Medical Patient Numbers Begin to Move State Policy

The acceptance of medical marijuana as a legitimate drug has begun to move legalization policy, sometimes quite dramatically, in a number of states. As the medical uses of the drug begin to become more widely accepted, patient pools both in states where legalization is in the process of being defined and even in those where it is not yet, are about to become a viable force in the legalization debate.

The reason is that with accepted use of the drug for certain kinds of conditions, such known patient pools become the basis for establishing state regulations on everything from cultivation and sales to home grow and delivery. They may also become an important leverage point in the discussion over the legalization of CBD and THC.

Further, the size of the conglomerated patient pool in every state, no matter the ailment from which they suffer, can also be used to help make the business case of both medical and recreational businesses, particularly in states like Oregon which are beginning to experiment with a mixed use, dispensary-smoke-shop model.

In Illinois, a state which has repeatedly delayed implementation of even its low-level medical program, this is very clear. In the first few days of sales in November, the first eight legal dispensaries in the state sold $211,000 worth of cannabis, which worked out roughly to 460 ounces of marijuana. According to state statistics and the Associated Press, that came out to an average of about half an ounce for each one of the 806 customers served. That is also less than a quarter of eligible state patients, but at an average price of $450 per ounce, it is not hard to see why. People with serious disabilities are also usually economically affected by their condition, and at present, medical marijuana is not covered by health insurance policy in the United States.

As of Nov. 4, about 3,300 patients, out of a total submission pool of 4,300 individuals who applied, had the right to buy medical marijuana in the state.

In Florida, the discussion is roughly the same, even if the state legislative reality is a bit different. The industry here is still CBD-only thanks to the defeat of the state’s full medical proposal last year. That said, members of the legislature who crafted the current rules now in operation, are already attempting to walk the size of the industry, if not for those who need the drug, into a different category at the end of 2015. At the beginning of November, two medical marijuana bills were introduced into the state legislature which would not only supplant last year’s legislation signed by Gov. Rick Scott, but also introduce full medical reform with THC dispensation to join CBD-only mandates now in place.

As Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, said about SB 852 as he introduced it, this is a “robust and free-market regulatory approach to the governance of cultivation, processing, and retail sale of medical marijuana in Florida.” Brandes also said in a written statement that he intended to build on the growing support of Florida citizens for medical use and to create a “responsible regulatory framework” that builds on “best practices of the 23 other states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

If there was ever a time that medical marijuana patients knew that they could stand up, be counted and make a difference, this might well be it.

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