Chart: Stage is set for more growth in New York’s rapidly expanding medical marijuana market

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New York’s medical marijuana program is adding patients at a speedy clip, and the recent approval of MMJ as an alternative to opioids has the potential to give sales in the state a substantial boost.

Over the past 12 months, nearly 37,000 patients were added to New York’s MMJ program, a 128% increase.

The gains were driven largely by the addition in March 2017 of chronic pain as a qualifying MMJ condition, which is typically the most oft-cited condition treated by MMJ patients in states where it’s allowed.

But allowing MMJ as an alternative to opioids could prove to be even more significant.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 19% of the U.S. population had at least one opioid prescription filled in 2016.

At that rate, roughly 3.8 million New York residents would qualify to use MMJ as an alternative, based on the state’s population of 19.8 million.

If just 4% of qualified patients chose MMJ as an alternative to opioids, it would add approximately 150,000 patients to the program, more than twice the amount currently enrolled.

However, a number of factors may dissuade patients from using MMJ instead of traditional opioids, including:

  • The high price of medical marijuana in the state. Etain, one of six registered MMJ companies currently operating in the state, said on its website that patients typically spend $150-$400 a month on MMJ, depending on the volume. Medical marijuana is not covered by U.S. health insurance providers. Dr. Ajay Wasan, professor and vice chair for pain medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, told NPR that opioids may require only a $5 copay for an entire month’s supply.
  • Smokable flower – the most widely used form of marijuana – is prohibited in New York. Traditional edibles, one of the fastest-growing segments of the cannabis industry, also are not allowed.
  • Patients have limited access to New York’s MMJ dispensaries. Currently, 22 dispensaries are open throughout New York, less than one per million state residents. By comparison, there are nearly 90 MMJ dispensaries in Colorado per million residents.

Eli McVey can be reached at