How Much Will Recreational Sales Harm California’s Medical Market?


Gone are the days of canvassing college campuses and dark street corners for the person selling pot. These days, if people want weed, they just go to the doctor. The pot industry has been booming unabated for anyone with even the slightest medical condition for two decades already, but now that recreational cannabis is legal too, what will happen to the medical market?

California was the very first state to allow marijuana for medical purposes twenty years ago. Since then, it has become an open secret that anybody who wants cannabis, at any time, can easily find a physician willing to recommend its use for just about any reason. Despite it being illegal for doctors to “prescribe” marijuana under federal law, the state allows them to write “letters of recommendation.”

Once a patient has this “recommendation” from a doctor, he or she can apply for a state-issued Medical Marijuana Card that, even though not required, makes pot purchases and cannabis delivery in Monterey and surrounds notably more convenient and, in the opinion of many, makes law enforcement take them more seriously as medical marijuana patients.

On average, it costs roughly $40 to get a letter of recommendation from a doctor after a 10-minute video consultation. Of course, those doctors insisting on a proper examination charge a lot more, and there are annual renewal fees, as well. However, with California finally legalizing recreational marijuana on January 1 for anyone 21-years or older, most will be throwing their state-issued cards away.

In 2018, experts predict that medical marijuana sales will plummet. According to a study published by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, revenues from the medical pot market are likely to drop from roughly $2 billion generated in 2016 to a much lower $1.4 billion this year. In comparison, the study expects legal recreational sales to exceed more than $5 billion.

The study estimates that recreational sales will make up roughly 62 percent of all pot purchases in California, with about 30 percent occurring on the black market. This leaves only eight percent for medical marijuana sales. Market forces are already at work, as over the last year, heavily guarded dispensaries are now allowing customers to walk in without their Medical Marijuana Cards.

Adam Salcido, a 22-year old working for a company involved with popular events such as the Cannabis Cup and Hempfest, says, “As they have gotten closer and closer to being legalized, they are not even asking for the recommendation letters anymore.” Salcido has been treating stomach ailments with pot and, at least for now, plans to hold onto his Medical Marijuana Card.

He is not alone. Millions of people are using marijuana to treat serious medical issues across the United States, with the majority of them in California and Colorado. Dr. Bonni Goldstein, a pediatrician treating patients with cannabis, said, “Some physicians, like myself, who see mostly very ill patients, such as those with epilepsy, cancer, and other serious conditions, will likely not see a drop-off.”

Goldstein explained this view by stating, “We are involved in managing the cannabis treatment, not only providing a letter for access.” Additionally, those between the ages of 18-years and 20-years will not be able to buy recreational weed until they turn 21-years old. Until then, they are likely to continue applying for state Medical Marijuana Cards with fictitious health issues in order to access it legally.

However, many will continue to apply for Medical Marijuana Cards, even if they do not have any health issues. This is because the state offers financial incentives to those using it medicinally: Medical marijuana enjoys a much lower tax rate than recreational weed, but for casual users, the effort and cost required to get and maintain a card will likely cancel out any potential savings.

However, as the move away from dispensaries continues, and as some of them decide to morph into full-service weed shops, stocking items such as cannabis-infused wines, candy bars, pre-rolled joints, edibles, and more, some doctors believe those grown comfortable with Skyping patients and emailing recommendations will suffer the most.

Dr. David Bearman, who has been recommending medical weed to patients for nearly twenty years, said it best, “You really have physicians following two paths here: On one path are those physicians who continue to practice quality medicine, and on the other are those who just see this as a way of making a lot of money.”

“This is why the legalization of cannabis for recreational use is so important,” reiterated Goldstein who, like Bearman, only sees patients face-to-face in hour-long consultations, and then only if they provide medical records proving a serious illness that she believes treatable by cannabis. “Let the medical patients be medical,” she says, “and let the recreational users use it recreationally.”

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