Arizona Gets a C-minus on Medical Cannabis Access Report Card

On a scale from acceptable to horrible, Arizona ranks poor when it comes to patient access to medical cannabis, according to the Washington, DC-based patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

In its latest State of the States report, the ASA said Arizona’s passing grade is largely due to a focus on adult recreational cannabis diverting resources from the cannabis program. medical.

“As the state rolls out its adult use program on top of the existing medical infrastructure, products for medical patients (high-dose edibles, lotions, suppositories, RSOs) have become scarce while products aimed at adult consumers have become ubiquitous,” the report said.

The report highlights many issues raised by Arizona patients regarding the performance of the medical cannabis program, including rising costs for consumers and poor accessibility, especially for those living in rural areas.

The group rated individual states on how well their cannabis laws and regulations meet patient needs based on seven categories, including patient rights, accessibility, program functionality, affordability and protection. consumers.

The ASA gave the 55 assessed states and territories a collective average grade of D. Arizona’s C- grade puts it in the middle of the pack, but in the top half, with 18 state programs best, 32 worst, and four other identical ones.

The highest score went to Maine, which earned a B grade for high program functionality, laboratory operations, and patient-to-clinic ratio. The report cites Maine’s reasonable requirements for caregivers and physicians, and to “authorize telemedicine for certification.”

Iowa and Nebraska both received an F because they are the only two remaining states in the country that ban both medical and adult cannabis.

On individual criteria, the ASA gave Arizona above-average marks on all but one: program administration. The Arizona Department of Health Services, which regulates the state’s medical marijuana industry, declined to comment.

Since California became the first state to legalize medical use 25 years ago, 48 states and territories have followed suit. The number of patients climbed to 5.1 million, with 276,000 registered patients in Arizona, according to the report.

War on Access to Drugs: Medical vs. Recreational

Just 80 days after Arizona voted in favor of Proposition 207 in November 2020, retail recreational cannabis became legally available to anyone over the age of 21.

When it comes to bureaucracy, it’s Olympic gold medal speed, and credit goes to an existing medical cannabis infrastructure. In fact, this launch marks one of the fastest rollouts for adult recreational use, from voter approval to sales in any U.S. cannabis market, according to news reports.

Proposition 207 called for a transfer of $39 million from medical cannabis coffers to establish operations for adult recreational use.

Existing medical dispensaries were also allowed to apply for a license for early applicants so that they could transform into dual-use stores, serving both medical consumers and adults in one location.

“Arizona has fallen into the trap of focusing on the adult-use market at the expense of the medical cannabis department,” said Abbey Roudebush, director of government affairs at ASA. “This includes the decision to allow dispensaries to act as co-located retailers for both adults and medical purposes, which negatively impacts patient access.”

The ASA’s survey of Arizona patients found that while the rollout of the adult program has given them access to a greater variety of products, “what they need has become more expensive or often runs out.” “.

The report notes that COVID-19 restrictions have forced patients to wait longer than normal, resulting in long lines outside dispensaries in Arizona’s summer heat.

“I’ll buy a bunch at a time so I don’t have to go back,” said Danny Gibbons, a medical marijuana patient from Arizona. To avoid the queues that form towards the end of the working day, he finds time in the early afternoon to visit the clinic.

In theory, adult use and medical consumption should be able to live harmoniously under one roof, but prioritizing recreational users over medical patients with medical needs is a recurring problem across the country. As Phoenix New Times reported, state legalization has made cannabis less accessible to medical marijuana patients.

Accessibility for medical cannabis

According to Roudebush, states should have one dispensary for no more than 500 patients.

Arizona has one dispensary for 2,126 patients.

“The structure of Arizona to have [only] two rural licenses definitely limit patient access,” said Demitri Downing, founder of the Marijuana Industry Trade Association in Arizona (MITA AZ). “If I’m a patient in the middle of Tempe, I have four to five choices within a mile radius.”

In comparison, smaller towns like Willcox, Benson, and Sierra Vista do not have the same level of accessibility, so individuals must travel hundreds of miles to the nearest cannabis retail operation.

Across the country, the ratio of patients to clinics varies considerably. States with favorable ratios are Colorado, which has one dispensary for every 187 patients. In Maine, the ratio is 223 to one; in Oregon, it’s 50 to one.

States with less than favorable access include New Jersey, which has 5,351 patients for each dispensary; New York, with 3,977; and Missouri, with 22,740 patients per clinic.

ASA advocates also pointed out that Arizona qualifies patients with only 12 medical conditions to use medical cannabis. The organization lists 132 diagnoses conducive to medical pot.

The prices are too high

In addition to affecting product accessibility across the country, the accelerating adult recreational use market is making affordable cannabis a long-lost dream.

“When you see potatoes, cantaloupe and radishes being grown for less than $10 a pound, and cannabis going for hundreds of dollars a pound, something is wrong here,” said Downing, who thinks the high price of cannabis for patients is one of the biggest challenges facing the industry.

“The price has definitely gone up,” said Cody Allen, who has been a local MMJ patient for five years. He noticed that the price of an eighth of an ounce of cannabis gradually increased over time, from $40 to $60. To avoid overpaying, Allen finds himself strategizing during his retail visits to take advantage of weekly promotions.

According to the ASA report, affordability remains a top concern raised by patients in nearly every state. Downing and Roudebush hope prices will start to fall and product availability will increase in the medium term. But given the many tests and regulations involved in cannabis production, as well as markets that are expanding to serve both the medical and recreational needs of adults, prices will remain high for now, they added.

Policy Recommendations for Arizona

Advocates have pointed out that states have work to do before medical marijuana patients can receive adequate service, despite almost nationwide adoption of programs to help them.

On average, the 55 assessed states and territories received a combined score of 44.38% on the ASA rating scale.

“While we can recognize that we have come a long way since the first medical cannabis law passed in 1996,” the ASA report states, “we must also recognize that none of the state laws passed until now cannot be considered ideal from the patient’s point of view.”

Roudebush highlighted some areas Arizona could improve.

“It’s surprising that Arizona doesn’t have a medical cannabis advisory group made up of patients and physicians,” Roudebush said, adding that allowing patients and physicians to work together to provide information on efficacy of the program is an example of a working system.

The report says steps need to be taken to allow access for minors who rely on medical cannabis to self-medicate on school grounds with the help of school staff, such as a nurse.

Reducing dispensary registration fees is a key factor in reducing prices for consumers. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization dedicated to the legalization of cannabis in the United States, dispensary fees typically range between $5,000 and $20,000 per year, and these costs tend to be passed on to the customer in the form of more expensive products.

“With the influx of revenue from the adult use market,” Roudebush said, “the state no longer has an excuse to put the financial burden of the market on the shoulders of patients.”

Other simple measures that help balance the scale of adult use and medical consumption include setting up specific shopping hours for medical patients, online pick-up orders for timed Shorter Waits and Separate Lines for Medical Cannabis Users at Dispensaries.

Arizona continues to see growth in the number of patient registrations. It is one of the top five states for the number of registered medical marijuana patients.

“Twenty years ago there was no access,” notes Downing, “so being an optimist, my goodness, things have come a long way.”

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