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By the Numbers

More than 3,600 Tucson-area residents have obtained marijuana cards

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I've been thinking about a lot of numbers this week—heart rates, survival rates, ejection fractions, likelihoods of various disasters—so I thought it might be a good time to reflect on the Arizona medical marijuana numbers. I touched on some of the latest figures a couple of weeks ago, but it's been a while since I've offered a detailed look, so ...

As of Sept. 19, the last update from the state Department of Health Services, there were 32,110 cannabis patients statewide. Of those, 4,901 were renewals. About 16 percent of the cardholders applied for half-price cards under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), which sounds like a lot until you know that's the percentage of Arizonans on SNAP. Actually, it is a lot, but that's an issue for another columnist. There were just 824 caregivers statewide.

Nationally, there are about 730,000 MMJ patients in 17 states, according to a report last year on the website of Cannabis Heath News Magazine. That would give Arizona 4 percent. States that register patients account for roughly half of that number, according to an Associated Press analysis in March, but California and Washington don't require registration with the state. It seems clear that Cali alone has hundreds of thousands of MMJ cardholders, or they could never support thousands of dispensaries. Add Washington, and it seems the 730K estimate is reasonably accurate.

The state reported 3,651 patients in the Tucson metro area, if you include Green Valley (42 patients) and Catalina (65). There are a few more, but exact numbers aren't reported for the Pascua Yaqui and San Xavier districts, because they have fewer than 20. That gives us about 11 percent of patients (not counting rural Pima County), which seems to jibe with population estimates (which do include rural Pima County). According to the Pima Association of Governments, Pima County has 15 percent of Arizona's population. Statewide, Phoenix's north valley has the most patients. Four Community Health Analysis Areas from Paradise Valley up through Deer Valley each have more than 900 patients.

In Tucson, the cardholder distribution continues to lean east. The Tanque Verde area (CHAA 108), which stretches from the far eastside of Tucson through Vail to the Cochise County line, has the most patients at 607. Northeast Tucson (CHAA 105) follows with 481, and the Tucson east-central area (CHAA 109) is next with 397.

I suspect a key reason for the swath of affluence on the Tucson and Phoenix CHAA maps is simply because the patients in those areas can afford MMJ cards. Maybe $200 doesn't sound like much to some folks, but that's way out of range for a lot of Americans these days.

Every qualifying illness is represented among Arizona patients, and many patients reported more than one condition. Chronic pain, at 89.76 percent (28,850) of current cardholders, is still and will likely always be the top reason patients qualify. But 21 patients (0.07 percent) qualified with Alzheimer's disease, and 24 with sclerosis. One percent of patients (335) qualified with Crohn's disease, roughly the same number who qualified with HIV or AIDS (344).

I guess the good news in this statistical mishmash is that all of these numbers are rising. There are more patients in more states with more ailments than we have ever had before. I suspect it's only a matter of time before all of this expensive medical-marijuana statistics tracking and parsing becomes moot. As a society, we don't really spend much time tracking use of St. John's wort or echinacea, and we are trending away from cannabis prohibition nationally. Eventually, we won't need these statistics, and I might be out of a writing gig.

Wouldn't that be awesome?

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