By Becky Olson
Patient numbers have jumped significantly since early 2014 in most states with medical marijuana laws, showing the potential for growth in new MMJ programs and the continued expansion of more mature markets.
Every state that requires residents to register for medical cannabis cards posted an increase in patient numbers over the past 12-18 months, with many reporting spikes of 50% or more, according to the latest data in each market.
Washington DC led the way with a 20-fold increase as the number of patients rose from 165 early in 2014 to nearly 4,000 now, followed by New Jersey at 182%. Colorado had the slowest growth at 2%, which is still notable given that it started recreational cannabis sales last year and is one of the more mature MMJ markets in the country.
States that don’t require patients to register – such as California and Washington State – also grew, according to estimates in the Marijuana Business Factbook.
Combined, patient totals across the country rose an estimated 11%.
A multitude of factors affects the size of a state’s patient base, including accessibility to dispensaries, qualifying medical conditions and the number of doctors willing to recommend cannabis.
Additionally, many states initially see a surge in patient counts once dispensaries open for business, meaning their growth rates can rise into the stratosphere.
In some states, patient growth tapers off to more sustainable levels a year or two after dispensaries open unless there’s a significant change in rules and regulations that affect patient access. Examples include new qualifying conditions and decisions to boost the number of dispensaries allowed to operate.
New Mexico, for instance, ushered in a host of changes last year including an increase in possession limits and THC potency and the addition of new conditions that qualify for MMJ. As a result, its patient base has rocketed 53% from early 2014.
In Colorado, the patient registry has increased overall by about 3.5% over the past two years but has seen frequent month-over-month decreases since recreational sales began in 2014. In the past four months, about 2,000 patients have dropped off the registry.
The availability of recreational marijuana in Colorado likely siphoned many patients from the medical side who purchase cannabis very infrequently and don’t think it’s worth renewing their MMJ cards now that they can purchase freely.
It remains to be seen whether that particular trend will hold true in other states that introduce recreational sales but maintain separation between medical and recreational.
Becky Olson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org