As recreational cannabis becomes easier to obtain, and medical more regulated, many patients are jumping ship.
The number of registered medical marijuana patients in Oregon has dropped 41 percent in the last year alone, down from from 59,137 to 34,892. The number of registered medical growers has seen a similar 40 percent drop—from 23,175 to 13,959. As to why this is happening, it seems to be a mix of market forces and new regulations.
Currently, medical patients in Oregon have the option of paying either the 20 percent sales tax on recreational cannabis, or the $200 annual fee for the registration with the Oregon Medical Marijuana Program (OMMP). For some, simply paying the sales tax has accounted for savings in the long run. That's something Diana Calvert of River City Retail marijuana dispensary in Merlin says she hears often.
"I repeatedly hear customers say, 'I let my medical card expire. It's too expensive to renew. I'll just pay the taxes.'"
Of course, cost isn't the only issue. As of this year, anyone growing medical marijuana for themselves or somebody else must use Oregon's online product tracking system called METRC. The complexity of the system has pushed some people away from home cultivation and into the recreational market, explains Pete Gendron, president of the cannabis farmer's association Oregon SunGrowers Guild.
"The new reporting system is something people aren't going to be able to adapt to," Gendron said. "The training is inadequate. The tech support is also woefully inadequate."
A lot of these small time growers would provide not only for their own needs, but those of a few other patients too. As they begin to disappear, the patients that relied on them for low-cost medical marijuana may begin to return to previous, more dangerous medications. This is the biggest issue, says Gendron.
"They don't have the money to go to the corner dispensary."
Oregon Health Authority spokesman Jonathan Modie says the state will be surveying past and present medical marijuana patients to find out why they have decided to leave, or stay, in Oregon's medical marijuana system. And while he says he's not surprised the markets have shifted towards recreational sales, hopefully the data collected will help Oregon bolster the medical marijuana program for those who still rely on it to get the medications they need.
h/t Oregon Live