April 22, 2024

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Are Fewer Medical Cannabis Patients Actually a Bad Thing?

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I am confused by something. The number of people in Utah who possess valid medical cannabis cards is not as high as some people in the industry had expected. Based on some things I have read in the news some people perceive this as a bad thing. But is it really? Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective. One person’s good news is someone else’s bad.

A Little Bit of Background

Utah voters approved medical cannabis in 2018. The state officially launched its program the following year. Initially, experts were not expecting any more than 10,000 cardholders or so. Their estimates were woefully inadequate. There are now more than 77,000 active cardholders in Utah.

That is a lot in a mostly rural state with a population of roughly 3.4 million. But according to an article published in 2023 by the Salt Lake City Weekly, some in the industry were expecting 100,000 cardholders by now. Here is where my confusion comes in.

One of the experts interviewed for the story said he believes Utah’s program has plateaued at this point, implying that he does not expect the number to get much higher. I get the impression there is some disappointment over that fact.

Why It Could Be Bad

Some of the reasons offered as explanations about why the number of cardholders has not reached 100,000 lend credence to the situation being unfavorable. Those reasons are as follows:

  • High out-of-pocket costs for patience.
  • Limited numbers of medical providers.
  • Limited cannabis pharmacy licenses.
  • The ever-present illicit market.

The Salt Lake City Weekly pointed out that some 30,000 cardholders have allowed their cards to expire. No matter the reasons, it can be considered bad if those patients have chosen to illegally obtain cannabis from the black market. This is a problem. But there is a very good and legitimate reason that could explain so many expired cards.

Why It Could Be Good

If you combine the current 70,000 current holders with the 30,000 who let their cards expire, you have that magical number of 100,000 industry experts were hoping for. But what if the majority of those cardholders who let their cards expire did so because they no longer want or need medical cannabis?

The folks at the Beehive Farmacy Utah dispensary say that the two most common conditions listed on medical cannabis card applications are chronic pain and PTSD. Here is the thing: neither chronic pain nor PTSD are automatically life-long conditions. It is possible to beat both of them.

Personally, I would be thrilled to know that the majority of expired cards are the result of patients no longer needing access to medical cannabis. It’s no different than learning about chronic pain patients who decide they no longer need narcotic painkillers. Not having to take drugs is actually a good thing, not a bad thing.

A Bit Presumptuous

As someone who has been following and writing about medical cannabis for years, it seems a bit presumptuous for anyone in the industry to assume the number of medical cannabis cardholders should reach a certain threshold in order for a program to be successful. Likewise, it’s presumptuous to assume that the magical number hasn’t been reached because of market conditions or black market availability.

Even though such things are possible, it is equally possible that there are not as many people in need of medical cannabis as experts suspected. To me, that is a more favorable reality. It’s good that medical cannabis is available for those who need it. But it is also better that so many people don’t need it.

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