California Medical Marijuana Dispensary Disaster
We’re not California
by GERALD GAINES CEO Compassion First Caregiver Circle Arizona
Ok, that was obvious. What I really mean to say is that what’s happening with marijuana in California bears no resemblance whatsoever to what is happening and going to happen here as the Arizona Medical Marijuana dispensary program starts. Much of the medical marijuana world is watching Arizona, but it’s important that Arizona keep track of the rest of the marijuana world as well.
While the Arizona Medical Marijuana program is taking baby steps forward, from the outside it would seem that California is taking huge steps backwards. That’s not how I see it, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the California Medical Marijuana dispensary disaster. And it is a disaster for the industry, a self-inflicted wound that may put their Medical Marijuana program back years.
Many of you probably know that the feds and local governments across California are outlawing or severely restricting access to medical marijuana. Cities have the flexibility to do this in California because the state lacks the patient protections found in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. In the biggest move to date, the Los Angeles city counsel has voted to close down all 750-plus dispensaries in the city in the next couple of months, with a vague possibility that 170 of them will be allowed to eventually re-open.
The medical marijuana community in Los Angeles is up in arms over this, but stop and think about the numbers. 750 dispensaries for the city of Los Angeles would equate to over 700 dispensaries in Maricopa County, instead of the roughly 50 Arizona Medical Marijuana dispensary licenses that will be granted in the valley. By any measure, California has allowed it’s medical program to grow into a front for recreational sales with an infrastructure to match. The California Medical Marijuana industry has invited federal, state and local action with the very scale and aggressiveness with which they’ve pursued sales over legitimacy.
How many patients, and others, are being supported by the 750 dispensaries in LA? One sign the California Medical Marijuana system is out of control is that they don’t even know who is a patient and who isn’t – there isn’t a database. So we have to make a guess based on anecdotal information and a little creative estimation. A little math shows that maybe 10% (Other estimates are twice as high) of Los Angeles residents have a medical marijuana card – where something more on the order of 3 -5 % might be the expected number of true patients for today’s known medical uses.
As you would expect from the number of patients, the California process for obtaining a medical marijuana card is much more easily abused by people whose sole interest in marijuana is recreational. Perhaps abuse isn’t the word, as the system is so loose that if a California physician thinks marijuana might help a condition, then the physician can write a recommendation for medical marijuana. As I’ve said repeatedly, I’m not against using marijuana for recreational purposes, but I am firmly against using the Arizona Medical Marijuana infrastructure to support a recreational market. My objections are practical, not philosophical - we will not be able to sustain our industry as a medical option if we confuse our mission with decriminalization or legalization. Those are two long-term battles we support, while recognizing that we can do a lot of good right now using the Arizona Medical Marijuana state laws to provide medical marijuana.
What lessons can we take from California? We’re already off to a strong start, given the protections in the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. What else can we do? A few thoughts of mine, but in the end it’s up to the industry to decide:
• Create an industry self-policing capability to work with industry participants to help everyone stay within the bounds of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act.
• Pledge as an industry to be patient focused. Develop a set of industry guidelines focused on the needs of our patient base.
• Work as an industry to fight off state and local attempts to limit the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act. We’ve already seen several attempts to limit patient rights in Arizona, and we anticipate needing legal action to get back our full rights and to protect those rights going forward.
• Other ideas?
Source: Caregiver Circle CEO Blog AZ