Arizona’s medical cannabis program slows as state gears up for recreational sales

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As Arizona prepares to launch recreational marijuana sales in March, the state’s medical cannabis program is showing signs of a slowdown, with new patient applications dropping steadily since July.

After launching, new recreational markets often trigger a shift away from medical marijuana sales, with MMJ customers migrating to an adult-use market that typically has fewer restrictions and less bureaucratic paperwork.

In Arizona, for example, medical marijuana customers must pay the state $150 for a patient card.

The Arizona Department of Health Services reported only 4,128 new patient applications in November, down from the roughly 18,000 it received in July.

The state processed 151,080 new patient applications through November.

Other states, including California and Colorado, experienced similar declines in MMJ participation and sales after launching their recreational markets.

Colorado patient numbers declined from almost 115,000 in 2014 when adult-use sales opened to only 85,000 this past November.

Arizona’s medical marijuana sales in November declined 6.8% from October’s record sales of 19,465 pounds.

While the drop in new applications might be a signal of things to come, the total number of active cardholders continued to grow 2% per month on average over the past two years.

Arizona reported 301,878 active cardholders in November – 97% were qualified patients and the rest caregivers and dispensary/lab agents.

Arizona voters legalized adult-use marijuana in 2020 by a nearly 2-to-1 margin. The yes vote came four years after a similar measure was defeated.

The state hopes to launch recreational sales in March with existing medical dispensaries getting access to most of the initial licenses.

The Arizona Department of Health Services released the first draft of recreational program rules in December.

The public comment period on the second draft closes Wednesday.

The state will begin accepting applications on Jan. 19 from medical marijuana dispensaries in good standing and businesses seeking to open in underserved counties.

Andrew Long can be reached at