Chart of the Week: Latest patient counts in emerging medical marijuana markets

By Marijuana Business Daily staff

Medical marijuana dispensaries are slated to launch in several new states this year, accelerating the MMJ industry’s march across the country.

But it’s difficult to determine the potential size of these markets, as it will largely depend on how many patients register for medical cannabis cards.

So far, patient totals are relatively low in these states.

Just 200 people have signed up for cards in Delaware, where the first and only dispensary allowed is scheduled to open this spring. That represents a miniscule .02% of the population.

About 8,600 patients have MMJ cards in Nevada. The total is promising, as it represents a nearly 75% spike from the beginning of 2014. But the patient county is still less than half a percent of the state’s population. (Nevada has had its patient registry operating for years, as locals are allowed to cultivate at home or use caregivers. It only recently passed laws allowing dispensaries and is now finalizing licenses.)

Current MMJ patients totals in Illinois and Massachusetts are just a fraction of a percent of their respective populations as well.

The good news is that the number of patients will certainly rise – perhaps dramatically – once dispensaries actually open and patients can buy the drug, as we’ve seen in other states.

In Vermont, patient numbers rose 50% over a 10-month period once dispensaries opened, with cardholders rising from 800 to 1,200. Connecticut’s jump occurred even more quickly, moving from 2,300 patients on the day the first dispensary opened last fall to 3,400 patients three months later – a 48% increase.

State laws vary on how registered patients can acquire MMJ products before dispensaries actually open.

In Delaware, Illinois and Massachusetts, home cultivation is largely not allowed. So patients don’t have much of an incentive to register for MMJ cards until dispensaries launch – which could lead to a big spike when those businesses open.

Some states have also just recently started accepting patient applications for cards, so the numbers will grow naturally over time.

Although just 1,000 patients have been approved for cards in Illinois, for example, more than 14,000 Illinois residents have applied and are awaiting a decision. Minnesota won’t even start registering patients until June, even though dispensaries are on track to launch in July.

What’s a normal number of patients? It varies greatly, depending on the list of qualifying medical conditions, the willingness of doctors to recommend MMJ, and other factors.

In general, though, states that strictly limit patient cards could end up with patient totals coming in at less than half a percent of population; a state with moderate medical conditions requirements could be at the 0.5-1.0% mark; and the most liberal states – those including chronic pain – are around 2%.