History shows a medical marketplace is unlikely to survive in a fully legalized system.
In the beginning, the concept of marijuana for medicinal purposes was the only way the cannabis advocacy community could effectively further legalization movements. This is how California became the first legal state in the nation more than two decades ago. But there has been a shift in recent years in the plot to bring weed to the mainstream. Now, nine states and the District of Columbia allow adults 21 and older to use pot recreationally in a manner similar to beer. This is not to say that marijuana doesn’t still have the same therapeutic powers that once allowed people all over the Golden State to purchase weed for a variety of aches and pains to the full-blown, devastating effects of cancer and chemotherapy. But under the recreational laws, it is no longer necessary for “patients” to conjure up health problems to keep a surplus of weed on hand at all times. They can simply walk into their local dispensary, flash an ID, hand the clerk some money and head back home to relish in the feel-good effects of pot. No medical marijuana card required. No questions asked.
It is this hassle-free approach to maintaining a cannabis lifestyle that is starting to put the screws to medical marijuana programs. States that began their journey into legal weed by passing Compassionate Use laws, and have since adopted deeper reforms by legalizing the leaf for recreational use, are now seeing fewer patients and more customers, according to a recent report from Marijuana Business Daily. Colorado, Oregon and Nevada, have all experienced diminished medical marijuana sales as a result of fully legal markets. Patients are simply buying less of the “medical” stuff now that they lean on the recreational sector. It is a trend that seems destined to cripple medical marijuana programs nationwide as more states move to eliminate prohibition.
But is this really a problem?
The answer really depends on who is being asked. There are some folks who consider the cannabis plant is the most sacred plant on Earth and therefore it should not be consumed for recreational purposes. It is this group of zealots, the ones who believe God put cannabis here for us to remedy all of the devastating ailments that come our way, that remain the most passionate about maintaining their respective statewide medical marijuana programs. There are even some who protest the recreational movement because they fear it puts them at risk for losing access to actual “medical marijuana.” But there really is very little difference between medical and recreational weed. There are no super secret labs in legal states dedicated to growing special strains of cannabis for people purporting to have legitimate health conditions.
If there is any difference at all between the medical and recreational offerings distributed in part of the United States, it is that some of the medical strains are higher in the non-intoxicating compound of the cannabis plant known as cannabidiol (CBD). While these strains are better than some might imagine, they are not as popular as higher THC versions, like Blue Dream and Durban Poison. The only other difference is taxes. Some medical marijuana programs do not charge patients tax (or have reduced tax rates), while weed purchased on the recreational sector is levied big time. For some patients, like those on fixed incomes, high tax rates are enough to keep them from leaving the world of medical marijuana. But for the more functional breed of patients, those who can still maintain gainful employment, it is just easier to get all of their “medicine” from the recreational side. This is starting to happen more.
Oregon experienced the biggest drop, with patient counts down 42 percent since recreational sales began in 2015. In Nevada, which just celebrated its one-year anniversary for recreational sales, patient numbers have declined by 32 percent since last October. Colorado, the first state in the nation to go fully legal, experienced the lowest drop in medical marijuana patients (22 percent). This is likely due to the low cost associated with its medicinal program, the report says.
In spite of the controversy surrounding medical and recreational weed, the United States should probably prepare for the eventual demise of medical marijuana. Once the federal government finally brings prohibition to an end nationwide, allowing adult citizens all across the country to use cannabis however they see fit, the medicinal concept is going to come crashing down… and hard. No question. All one has to do is examine America’s history with alcohol to see that “medicinal purposes” cannot exist in a recreational climate.
During the days of alcohol prohibition, booze was still legal for medicinal purposes. Doctors were prescribing hard liquor to patients suffering from a variety of conditions ranging from depression to cancer. Interestingly, doctor’s orders on prescription booze sometimes read, “Take three ounces every hour for stimulant until stimulated.” In other words, drink until happy. But as it was pointed out in a piece from The Smithsonian, “medicinal alcohol” was a “mostly bogus” way for citizens to drink legally. Doctors didn’t mind this ruse because they earned more money. But the second alcohol prohibition was repealed, giving the people legal access to booze, once more, for recreational consumption there was no reason for anyone to ask their doctors for permission to drink. In 2018, most people laugh when it is suggested that alcohol has medicinal properties. Still, decades ago, medical whiskey was no laughing matter for alcohol enthusiasts caught up on the wrong side of prohibition.
Some medical marijuana purists might argue that the situation with alcohol and cannabis is different because the plant has actually been proven to have some medical value. Even the federal government now says that CBD is safe and effective medicine for some forms of epilepsy. This might be true. After all, I have never claimed to be a scientist, a medical expert of any kind, nor do I even like to visit the dentist to get my teeth cleaned on occasion. All I have is the history books as a basis for this hypothesis. And if any part of the prohibition chapter is coming around again — rest assured medical marijuana will not survive.
TELL US, do you think medical marijuana is doomed?
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Photo Gracie Malley for Cannabis Now