Will The Legalization of Recreational Marijuana Be The Death Knell for Medical Cannabis?

Is the medical marijuana market dying?

Some people have argued that when recreational cannabis is legalized it will effectively push out the medical market. Patients will forgo the hassle of getting a registered medical marijuana card and will instead frequent the local shops that require nothing more than a standard piece of government ID.

In fact, in states like Oregon that have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, patient registrations are on the decline. Additionally, in Canada where cannabis is legal nationwide for adult use, the Canadian Medical Association has argued that the country's whole medical marijuana program should be shelved, saying patients should just go to their local rec shops instead—a move the Canadian government has so far resisted.

In light of these facts Civilized reached out to a handful of people working in the cannabis industry to get their take on the topic. Will legalizing recreational cannabis actually kill the medical marijuana market?

When legalized for recreational purposes, cannabis reaches a wider audience.

"As more constituents opt to vote in favor of recreational cannabis, there remains a growing concern over the state of medical marijuana and its future. In places like California, you have a combined regulatory system in which both medical marijuana and recreational cannabis live side by side. When legalized for recreational purposes, cannabis reaches a wider audience," DOPE Magazine Editorial Manager Andrea Larson told Civilized. "With a wider audience, there are more opportunities to break long-held misconceptions about the plant and put pressure on the government to fund academic and medical research on cannabis' effects. From the conversations that I have had, the majority of voices feel that there is room for both medical and recreational cannabis and that recreational cannabis does in fact normalize the need of cannabis for medical purposes."

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Legalization on a recreational level will only help the plight of the medical user.

"Currently, Schedule I classification restricts research here in the US. With the legalization of cannabis on a national level for recreational purposes scientists and scholars will be legally able, and more inclined, to conduct in-depth studies and research," said Oregrown Co-Founder and VP of Retail and Branding Chrissy Hadar. "Only then will the vast benefits of the cannabis plant on a medicinal level be realized. Therefore, I believe that legalization on a recreational level will only help the plight of the medical user and our overall understanding of the medicinal properties this amazing plant contains."

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We've seen a shift in budtender knowledge from recommending medicinal benefits to focusing more on the 'high.'

"With the launch of recreational cannabis in California, we've seen a shift in budtender knowledge from recommending medicinal benefits to focusing more on the 'high.' While this has made it frustrating for patients old and new to navigate products, we expect this to be a short-lived trend," Aster Farms CEO & Director of Business Strategy Julia Jacobson said. "More research comes out everyday about the medicinal effects of cannabis and we believe that information will re-emerge as a cornerstone of decision making for consumers' purchases."

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We can expect cannabis to play an increasing role in medical treatments going forward, not less.

"Yes and No. Yes, the recreational cannabis market will largely supplant existing medical markets. It's just a matter of numbers. In general, there are more recreational consumers than medical patients in each state, which means there will be more retailers and suppliers targeting those consumers. The medical markets may or may not continue to formally exist under the state's regulations, but the recreational markets will outgrow and eventually eclipse the medical markets. We've seen that in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, and California already. We expect this trend to continue," said Steve Albarran, CEO & Co-Founder of Confident Cannabis. "However, no, the recreational cannabis market will not be the death knell for medical cannabis. It's a matter of need. Millions of medical patients use cannabis therapeutically for legitimate medical ailments. Unfortunately, their symptoms won't go away with the legalization of recreational cannabis, so their need to find high-quality, high-dose medical cannabis will continue. Furthermore, medical research into cannabis is still in its infancy, so we can expect cannabis to play an increasing role in medical treatments going forward, not less. In other words, recreational doesn't 'kill' medical. It simply bifurcates the market into two very important and legitimate industries that will each thrive in parallel in the years to come."

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There's plenty of room for more innovation, more products, and more businesses associated with that supply chain.

"I disagree with this premise for two reasons, the first being that medical patients, although potentially more costly to maintain (i.e. regulation, licensing costs, etc.), still represent a sizable portion of revenues for a dispensary because the needs of a medical patient far outweigh those of a recreational user," said Cannador CEO Zane Witzel. "When someone's health is on the line, one tends to go much further to find a cure for an ailment or a disease than a recreational user, and when they do, they generally stick with it until they are cured and we're seeing this play out with epilepsy and cancer patients. This is a powerful thing for any dispensary and if insurance companies get involved, this can only mean expansion. The second reason why I disagree with the notion that recreational cannabis will overthrow medical cannabis has to do with Big Pharma and the promise for engineering cannabinoids to treat more diverse diseases. Whether you like pharmaceutical drug companies entering this space or not, the truth of the matter is that they have the capability to research and capitalize on facets of this drug that we don't even know exist, which means that there's plenty of room for more innovation, more products, and more businesses associated with that supply chain. You have to view legalization overall with a long-term view because the only real change is going to be how we consume our products."

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Assuming that more access to cannabis through recreational legalization will in some way diminish the medical viability and unique therapeutic potential is inherently flawed.

"I think assuming that more access to cannabis through recreational legalization will in some way diminish the medical viability and unique therapeutic potential is inherently flawed," Goldleaf Founder Charles McElroy told Civilized. "I understand the rationale behind such concerns from a business perspective, but people will still be sick, and they will still seek relief using the best methods available. If cannabis is more affordable, more regulated, and understood by users—rec or otherwise—all the better. There is room for both in the industry."

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Few other entrepreneurs in the cannabis space have their hands in quite as many ventures as Lorne Gertner. Currently dubbed the "godfather of the Canadian cannabis industry," Gertner told Civilized, "If we could live through normalization, we could change the world." Hailing from the fashion industry, this Toronto native says he's on a mission to "make the world a better place through cannabis and design excellence." The only catch is, well, normalizing cannabis — and that's where Gertner's keen eye for style comes in. "In the old days, you were going to be different or you were going to be normal," said Thom Antonio, Gertner's friend, creative director, and collaborator of 35 years.

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