This fresh new content was written in collaboration with Ali Shana, an up and coming evidence-based journalist for the cannabis and psychedelic industries!
The medical cannabis industry is unlike other medical industries – it comes with its own unique regulations, availabilities, and price tags. Equally important, however, is that the medical cannabis community is unlike other medical communities – they are subject to niche problems, annoyances, and burdens that other communities may not relate to.
While some states are still unable to reap the benefits of medical cannabis, that doesn’t imply that the medical cannabis system is perfectly implemented in states that offer it. Indeed, members of the medical cannabis community have recently expressed concerns regarding the current state of medical cannabis, and there seems to be a few underlying shared themes.
Whether you use medical cannabis products to treat symptoms of anxiety, epilepsy, pain, nausea, etc. – you may subscribe to some of the following concerns expressed by the medical cannabis community.
Major Concern #1: The Prices of Medical Cannabis Are Too High
Upon being asked what you would like cultivators and dispensaries to do for their patients, customers, and community – what would you say? Members of the medical cannabis community seem to overwhelmingly answer “lower the prices.”
Although medical cannabis may be more affordable than recreational cannabis from a dispensary (and this is not always the case), both are subject to state taxes which drive up the prices to a natural extent. Moreover, IRS tax code 280e is largely responsible for increasing costs even further. A 2015 whitepaper from the National Cannabis Industry Association describes the tax code as the following:
“Section 280E of the Internal Revenue Code forbids businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary business expenses from gross income associated with the “trafficking” of Schedule I or II substances, as defined by the Controlled Substances Act. The IRS has subsequently applied Section 280E to state-legal cannabis businesses, since cannabis is still a Schedule I substance.”
The legislative code makes it harder for dispensaries to deduct their costs of goods sold, regardless of what the costs are. Dispensaries may charge more to make up for impending IRS liabilities.
In addition to the 280e taxation cost, the expansion of growing spaces (which inevitably will increase as cannabis becomes more popular) is expensive and time consuming. Unfortunately, cannabis consumers are partially footing those cultivator expenses via inflated dispensary prices. This is a truly unfortunate cocktail for medical cannabis patients who are already subjected to patient application fees.
Unlike Recreational Cannabis, Medical Cannabis is Directly Tied to Quality of Life
Unlike legal recreational cannabis, however, medical cannabis is truly tied to one’s health, reduction of symptoms, and overall quality of life. This would lead someone to conclude that prescribed cannabis would be covered by most health insurance plans, but this doesn’t seem to be the case–as medical cannabis can’t actually be prescribed. Patients can simply receive a certification from their doctor, which is an entirely different situation as far as insurance companies are concerned.
Just like any other medicine, prices ought to be affordable, and there is no valid excuse for patients to have to choose between alleviating their symptoms or saving money. For example, a medical marijuana patient may be disabled, and therefore living on fixed income – should they be expected to put their medical needs to the side?
Dispensaries ought to lower their prices, and this would largely involve systematic/legislative changes to occur, too. Patients cannot go on at the mercy of these dispensary prices. If we were to correct this over taxation, sales of regulated cannabis would nearly double – leaving both parties satisfied (patient and state). Quality products at a more reasonable price will sell as long dispensaries are abundant and accessible – which brings us to our next major concern.
Major Concern #2: There Needs to be More Dispensaries
If you are a medical cannabis patient, where you live plays a major role in your experience acquiring your medicine. Some states are littered with dispensaries, sure, but others are definitely not.
In fact, recent comments from members of the medical cannabis community express concern regarding the sheer distance it takes to reach some of these dispensaries. The price of medical cannabis is troubling enough, and the additional price of driving back and forth across long stretches of land to reach your only medical cannabis provider is ridiculously inconvenient.
As is the case with the aforementioned example, some disabled individuals who need medical cannabis are unable to drive. Even if one is able to drive, it is naive to believe every patient has a car and can afford a car (especially amid 2020’s unemployment spike).
Resolving What Some Call “Highway Robbery” Prices
What some are calling “highway robbery” prices can be resolved by providing more dispensaries in more locations. But, again, the concerns of the medical cannabis community are not equivalent to those in the recreational cannabis community. To truly look out for medical cannabis patients, we ought to allow patients to pick up their medicine at any dispensary they want.
Recreational users aren’t tied to a handful of locations, but rather, they can go to any licensed dispensary in their state. But medical patients often have to pick one dispensary at a time. Furthermore, changing which dispensary you get your medical cannabis can also be an annoyance in itself if the system isn’t streamlined. Why must medical users be subjected to this burden, again, causing some to drive far and wide simply to get their medicine at a reasonable cost?
Actually, why aren’t patients able to shop at any dispensary while maintaining their regular medical rates? While this idea might sound strange at first, it would quickly become normalized. Consider a typical Walgreens visit – one can pick up both recreational drugs (e.g., caffeine, nicotine) and prescribed drugs. The very same business model could be applied to dispensaries. What’s stopping this merger?
Logistical answers to that question abound, but health services ought to overcome logistical obstacles to ensure quality treatment to patients. Whether its pharmaceuticals or cannabis, working class individuals ought to have more access to their medicine.
Major Concern #3: There Needs To Be More Product Variety (and Availability)
Members of the medical cannabis community are limited by what products they can afford and what dispensaries can carry said products for them. On top of this, however, some are limited by the lack of variety in medical cannabis products.
It should be no surprise that certain strains of cannabis are better tailored for treating mental and physical ailments than others. Furthermore, each individual is unique in their exact response to cannabis period, let alone its different strains.
That being said, patients requiring medical cannabis have recently expressed the need for more variety in the products at their disposal. Not only would this ensure better medical results, but it would allow patients to see what works best for them – creating a new standard of the “perfect” treatment.
Certain types of products seem to be especially lacking variety, too. For example, some have expressed concern over the availability of seeds and clones. Supplying seeds and clones would allow patients to grow their own product – granting power back to the consumer, not the business. Other hard to find products include RSO (Rick Simpson Oil), a full spectrum concentrate that includes lesser known cannabinoids with particularly useful medicinal applications.
Within the existing variety of medical cannabis products, members of the community also express concern over lack of consistency. It can be an incredibly frustrating experience to find an ideal product and begin to use it regularly to relieve your symptoms – only to discover that it is out of stock weeks later.
Ensuring Safe Access to Regulated Medical Cannabis is a Must
The safest way to provide patients with medical cannabis during the COVID-19 pandemic is to create drive throughs for individuals to pick up their product of choice. We can see this method being used at banks and pharmacies long before the pandemic, and members of the medical cannabis community would appreciate a similar option for safe and convenient access.
While drive throughs would make a long lasting positive impact on the medical cannabis patient experience, there is one method that would expand safe access to these products and resolve high prices: the addition of home delivery or assisted transportation services. For medical patients, access to medicine dictates the direction of their day. A dispensary offering a ride or delivering a medicinal product communicates to the consumer we appreciate you choosing our products, we want you to use our products, and we want to improve your current situation. In contrast, medial consumers feel that some dispensaries are currently communicating, we want your money…figure it out.
Beyond Making Sales – The Significance of Providing Product & Financial Assistance to Patients
Finally, if we are in the business of helping medical cannabis patients, we ought to consider what that looks like. Simply providing a product does not constitute helping someone who is sick or in pain – especially in the absence of product and financial information. Making a sale does not mean both parties are left better off.
Members of the cannabis community deserve to know what as much as they can on the products they are buying, especially since they are using them for medicinal purposes! For product information on the terpenes, cannabinoids, and lineage may be distinguishing factors in a patient’s choice of product. This is partially due to the entourage effect – the interplay between multiple cannabinoids, not just THC, in producing psychoactive and therapeutic effects in the user.
Equally as important is that financial assistance is provided. In a world of barely cooperative insurance, unsteady employment, and debilitating physiological conditions, there is a huge need for financial assistance! Dispensaries who offer financial assistance (e.g., a discussion of different payment options, a list of resources on where to receive financial aid, a helpline pertaining to the financial aspect of applications) would do wonders for medical patients. Considering that patients tend to find a certain product that works for them and continue to buy it regularly, it is in the dispensary’s interest to help them foster that initial product choice – and much of these choices are a matter of finance.
Fighting the Good Fight
In addition to the aforementioned suggestions in this piece, the following are ways that education, regulatory and legislative correction, and a recontextualization of cannabis monopolies can work together to resolve the concerns of the cannabis community:
- Allow medical patients to make their purchase at any recreational dispensary with the application of a lower tax rate.
- Simplify the application process. This could be done via eliminating the diagnosis list, the application fee, or the lengthy approval time period that comes with these applications. Eligibility can still be verified by healthcare professionals, but the hassle is unnecessary.
- Remove the dispensary designation requirement. Allow patients to make purchases anywhere without requiring a state-administered “switch.”
- Eliminate card renewals all together for those with lifelong conditions. The conditions/symptoms of these patients don’t just suddenly disappear.
As we continue to move forward in medicalizing cannabis, we ought to consider the systematic factors that hurt the patient community. Large scale changes need to take place to consider those in the community who struggle financially. While we fight for those large scale changes, it is also important to keep these conversations going. The world will never hear the concerns of the medical cannabis community if we do not amplify their voices.