When the MMJ program launched in Arizona, there was a lot of cock blocking and stalling and excuses from the governor's office and other chambers of government across the state. It took more than two years to get a dispensary, and so far just 17 have been cleared to open.
But viewed from where I sit (the patient chair), the MMJ program seems to be operating pretty smoothly. I haven't heard much from anyone about major problems, and it seems the state is holding up its end of the bargain now. The governor has seen the error of her ways, or at least sees the error of defying the judges who repeatedly tell Attorney Generalissimo Tom Horne to STFU and get out of the way.
The problem now might lie with us.
Some dispensary operators expected a surge in patient applications when dispensaries opened, and it doesn't appear to be happening. As of April 13, the state had 37,422 patients. That's about 11,000 more than a year earlier, but it's only 1,100 more than we had in January, when dispensaries started popping up. Colorado had something in the neighborhood of 100,000 patients in its first year of medical cannabis.
Since the entire dispensary system relies on patients with cold, hard cash, this could be a troublesome trend if it continues. Here's a closer look at the current numbers:
As of April 26, the state had cleared dispensaries to open in Fort Mojave, Page, Williams, Sedona, Globe, Quartzite, Wickenburg, Glendale (2), Phoenix, Eloy, Tucson (4), Willcox and Bisbee. The Department of Health Services doesn't report which dispensaries are open, so it's unclear how many we have. Twelve others had asked for authorization to open. Ninety-eight have registered and are in various stages of completion. This all seems pretty slow to me, given that they had two years to prepare while Gov. Jan stalled. I suspect many of the operators hesitated to make major investments until they were sure we were actually going to have an MMJ program.
Young patients continue to dominate the statistics, with the 18-30 age group comprising 27 percent of patients, according to the latest patient report from the state Department of Health Services. About 20 percent each are in the 31-40, 41-50 and 51-60 age groups. There are 114 patients (0.3 percent) age 81 or older and 39 younger than 18 (0.1 percent).
Chronic pain still accounts for the lion's share of patients, at 72 percent, but it's a smaller share than it was last year, when it was 88 percent. I'm not sure what that means, but I like it. Chronic pain has always been cited by critics as a sham catch-all that lets stoners get cannabis cards. We can only hope the trend means more patients with other illnesses are seeing the benefits of cannabis and coming over to our side. ;)
No other illness contributes more than 2 percent of patients. Just 11 patients (0.03 percent) qualified with Alzheimer's disease and 12 (0.03 percent) with sclerosis.
In the end
Ultimately I'm a little worried about the number of patients and their potential shunning of dispensaries. If Arizonans choose not to get cannabis cards and we don't shop at dispensaries, the system will struggle.
Dispensaries need customers, and so far it looks like they are having a hard time finding them. I've said before that we could all probably survive without dispensaries, getting our meds the way we always have—from our friends. But I think we should support them, as long as they're here. We should consider them friends who need our support and encouragement as they surge ahead into this murky area of cannabis commerce. Yes, you can save a few bucks getting meds from a caregiver.
But what are a few bucks between friends?