The High Cost for Patients to Enter (and Stay in) the Medical Marijuana Economy

Not only is it difficult to get certified as a medical marijuana patient in some states, it’s also expensive. As of June 30, 2016, patients could get medical marijuana in 23 states (including the District of Columbia), and all but two of them charge a registration fee to those patients.

Every year, all but three of those states charge patients the same fee to renew their medical marijuana certifications. Those fees range from $0 to $200 per year, and they do not include the cost of the medical marijuana that patients purchase throughout the year.

The Problem with High Costs to Medical Marijuana Patients

As prices go up, demand typically goes down. That’s the law of economics. High fees to patients are just the first part of the problem. The prices that patients have to pay for medical marijuana products are also high. That’s because cultivators, processors, and dispensaries that are charged their own hefty state fees have to pass those costs on to consumers through higher prices for products.

It’s a vicious circle, and the end result isn’t good. Patients often find that buying marijuana on the black market is significantly less expensive than it is to buy legal medical marijuana. Some states are starting to recognize this problem as they watch medical marijuana patient registrations and sales go down.

Montana is one such example. In 2011, there were 30,000 certified medical marijuana patients in the state, but in June of this year, that number had dropped to 13,000. In a move that might bolster the legal market, the state health department reduced the fee to obtain or renew a medical marijuana certification from $75 to $0.

Patient Fees Vary Across the Country

Cannabiz Media is developing a state-by-state report that analyzes the marijuana economy across the country, and one of the factors being researched is fees to patients and across the entire supply chain. Subscribe to the Cannabiz Media newsletter so you don’t miss the announcement when the report is available. In the meantime, here are some fee highlights related to Montana.

Before Montana reduced its patient license and annual license renewal fees, it charged $75 for each. Of the 23 states where patients can get medical marijuana, only one state, Washington charges a different fee to get a license ($1) than it does to renew the license each year ($0). Fourteen states charge less than $75 and 9 charge more. Minnesota and Oregon charge the most ($200) while Maine and New Mexico charge the least ($0).

After Montana reduced its patient fees to $5, the state now has the fourth lowest fee after Maine ($0), New Mexico ($0), and Washington ($1 to obtain a certification and $0 to renew it).

An Industry in Flux

Of course, the marijuana industry is constantly evolving. In Montana, there are two initiatives that voters might vote on in November related to marijuana, one of which would repeal the medical marijuana law entirely. Several other states citizens’ will vote on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana in November. What’s happening today, might not be happening tomorrow.

Despite the ongoing industry evolution, one thing is certain. There is a large market for medical and recreational marijuana, but as with all things in life, it has to be affordable or few people will be able to buy it.

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