The number of patients on Colorado’s medical pot registry slid by 13% in October from the previous month, with 13,720 residents dropping off the list.
It marks the fourth straight decline in registered patients since the registry hit a peak of nearly 129,000 in June. Since then, patient numbers have plunged by 31%, the lowest level since spring of last year.
The decline means medical marijuana dispensaries, growers and related MMJ businesses are fighting for fewer pieces of a much smaller pie. It’s as if 40,000 of their customers just disappeared seemingly overnight. That could force some marijuana dispensaries to close and others to scale back significantly.
Here’s a breakdown of patient numbers since summer, including the percentage change from the previous month:
May: 127,444 (+1.1%)
June: 128,698, (+ less than 1%)
July: 127,816, (- less than 1%)
August: 121,476, (- 5%)
September: 102,592, (-15.5%)
October: 88,872, (-13.4%)
It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons behind the drop, but several factors are likely at work. Many medical pot experts expected to see some type of decrease this summer, when the state began requiring marijuana dispensaries to meet a whole host of new regulations. Several rules revolving around security, monitoring and record-keeping raised privacy concerns among patients, and some no doubt declined to renew their cards for that reason.
The drop-off is much higher than expected, but the situation might not be as dire for the MMJ industry as it seems. For one, the state has been grappling with a huge backlog of applications, estimated recently at between 28,000 and 30,000. Once the Colorado health department gets caught up, the registry should be closer to where it was in August.
The state also has put about 4,200 application on hold as it investigates possible fraud, claiming that some marijuana recommendations were not actually made by physicians as required by law.
At the same time, the annual patient registration fee drops significantly in January – from $90 currently to $35. A fair share of patients are no doubt waiting to renew until then, hoping to save a little green in the process.
It’s not surprising that the patient numbers are in flux, given all of these factors. A more accurate picture will likely emerge in March or April of next year, when everything settles down. At this point, the drop is certainly a concern for the industry. But it probably doesn’t signal some fundamental shift, and the numbers should rise in the coming months.