Maryland’s four-year-old medical cannabis program seems to have finally found its legs. Dispensaries opened their doors and began serving patients in late 2017. And so far this year, dispensary sales have exceeded all expectations. Additionally, low barriers to access are driving patient counts into the tens of thousands. But what else is causing the rapid growth of Maryland’s medical marijuana sales?
Medical Cannabis Sales Race Toward $100 Million in Maryland
In December 2017, the first full month of medical cannabis sales in Maryland, dispensaries took in $1.8 million. By June, their sales had climbed to $8.7 million, thanks to a 700 percent increase in transactions. With $35 million already in the bank—or the Brink’s truck—and sales continuing at their current pace, Maryland dispensaries could see sales top $100 million by year’s end.
Dispensaries are completing more transactions because there are more patients every month. Patient certifications climbed from 27,525 at the end of May to 35,895 through June. That’s a 30 percent increase in the number of registered patients in just one month. And a 191 percent surge since December. Beyond that, there are more than 13,000 patient applications pending.
But patient numbers are only part of the story. Physician certifications are up as well. Just over 275 new caregivers received certifications to recommend medical cannabis since May, bringing the total up to 985. There are also more dispensaries serving patients than ever before. Maryland sports 65 dispensaries according to the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission.
Ultimately, Maryland’s medical cannabis officials anticipate a program that will serve about 2 percent of the state population. In Maryland’s case, that would mean peaking at about 125,000 patients. Given the program’s popularity so far, Maryland could exceed even those estimates.
Maryland Patients Opt for Dispensaries Over Pharmacies
There are intrinsic factors that are driving high levels of participation in Maryland’s medical cannabis program. For one, the state has a higher density of dispensaries than any other state with legal medical marijuana. Second, dispensaries can sell flower, the most popular form of medical cannabis. Several other states have banned smokable forms, like New York, or tried and gone afoul of the constitution, like Florida.
But third and perhaps most importantly, Maryland gives doctors and nurses significant latitude to make medical cannabis recommendations. Like other medical cannabis states, Maryland has a list of qualifying conditions. But qualified physicians can make medical marijuana recommendations even if a condition isn’t on the list. As long as a symptom is severe enough, unresponsive to conventional medication and capable of relief from cannabis use, doctors can give patients a recommendation for it.
Access, in short, is excellent for Maryland patients. But there are also factors extrinsic to the program that is contributing to its rapid growth.
Namely, older patients’ desire for alternatives to opioids and other prescription pharmaceuticals with serious side-effects. Younger patients are also turning to medical cannabis to come off psychiatric drugs. “I have a lot of patients who are younger people that don’t want to be on Western antidepressants,” said Cameron Campbell, one of Maryland’s MMJ providers. Campbell’s two clinics specialize in working with patients who want to treat chronic pain without taking opioids.
Campbell’s observations were echoed by several other caregivers and dispensary operators. Many note that medical marijuana’s increasing popularity in Maryland is being driven by a popular rejection of prescription pharmaceuticals.