Chart: Nevada medical marijuana patient counts soar, but more growth needed

By Eli McVey

Nevada’s medical marijuana program is growing – with nearly 12,000 new patients joining in 2016 – but the market is still relatively small and some businesses are struggling to survive.

Consider this: Nevada allows MMJ recommendations for chronic pain, a catch-all diagnosis that historically has translated into patient counts representing around 2% of a state’s population on the high end.

By that metric, Nevada’s program falls woefully short. With a population of approximately 2.9 million and patient counts hovering around 25,000, less than 1% of the population is currently enrolled in the program.

Officials have made business-friendly changes to the program.

An online application process for medical marijuana patient cards, for instance, has made it much easier for patients to sign up for the program, while a change in how the state performs patient background checks has significantly expedited the application process.

But the efforts have yet to spur the kind of growth seen in other markets.

Larry Doyle, co-owner of Las Vegas dispensary Euphoria Wellness, believes the lackluster patient count can be attributed to the high costs to participate in the program.

Each year, patients are required to reapply to remain in the program (a $25 fee), pay for a new MMJ card (a $50 fee) and receive a new MMJ recommendation from a doctor, which can cost between $100 to $200.

Doyle believes that’s limited the MMJ patient pool to those in serious need of relief, as opposed to programs in states like California that have attracted individuals seeking recommendations for largely recreational purposes.

A closer look at the data bolsters this notion, as individuals 55 and older represent nearly 40% of all MMJ patients in the state, by far the largest share of any age group.

The lower-than-expected patient count has placed a great deal of pressure on Nevada dispensaries, as there simply aren’t enough customers to go around. Nearly 50 dispensaries are now open throughout the state, up from just 12 at the beginning of the year.

“There’s an oversupply of dispensaries as a ratio to patients, way too many,” Doyle said. “Dispensaries are struggling to stay open, particularly those that opened in the last six months.”

Perhaps dispensaries’ saving grace will come when recreational legalization is implemented in 2018, as current MMJ license holders will have priority in applying for a recreational license.

“The dispensaries are all pinning their hopes on going from 25,000 customers to half a million,” Doyle said.

Eli McVey can be reached at [email protected]

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