Who is the average medical marijuana patient in Arizona? You'd be surprised.

Who is the average medical marijuana patient in Arizona? You'd be surprised.
New Times photo-illustration
Men with salt-and-pepper hair may not be the most likely weed billboard model but the chances of them popping some THC-laced gummy bears to keep the chronic pain at bay is likely as the average medical marijuana patient in Arizona.

That's not to say GenZ, Millennials, and Baby Boomers aren't hitting up dispensaries with a medical weed card in tow. There are 72,588 individuals between 18 and 30 years old who are active medical marijuana patients across the state, Arizona Department of Health Services data shows. There are 56,389 people who are at least 61 years old with medical cards in the state.

But the average medical marijuana patient is a 44-year-old man who lives in Maricopa County out of 276,370 patients in Arizona.

Baby boomer Scott Ellenwood stumbled into medical marijuana several years ago.

“Cannabis saved my life,” said Ellenwood, fighting back some tears.

He was in his 50s and contemplating suicide while suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. But then he tried weed – and it worked. PTSD is one of about a dozen conditions that enables someone to obtain a medical card for pot.

Now 59, Ellenwood lives in Lake Havasu City but has strong ties to Glendale. Marijuana was still taboo when he was a teenager in the 1980s when Ronald Reagan became president.

“I believed Nancy Reagan when she told me to ‘just say no (to drugs),’” Ellenwood said. “Then my wife got sick.”

His wife, Barbara, contracted gestational diabetes shortly after the two married in 1986. It was a constant battle until she died suddenly of a heart attack at 51 several years ago. The only thing that really helped her in life, Ellenwood said, was weed.
click to enlarge A crowd gathered when Curaleaf Midtown began selling recreational marijuana in early 2021. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
A crowd gathered when Curaleaf Midtown began selling recreational marijuana in early 2021.
Jacob Tyler Dunn

“Her depression lessened and she started having fun again,” he said. “I was the next one to get a cannabis license.”

Health officials approved 60,000 new medical marijuana applications in 2021, records show. Two-thirds of those were in Maricopa County.

And while the Arizona health department lists cancer, Hepatitis C, AIDS, Glaucoma, and Crohn’s Disease as qualifying conditions, 95 percent of cardholders in Arizona report having “chronic pain.”

About 26 percent of cardholders in Arizona are between the ages of 18 and 30. Twenty-two percent are in their 30s, 16 percent in their 40s, and so on. The number of cardholders goes down with age.

At least until you hit age 60. Then it starts going back up. Ellenwood will turn 60 in May.

“For us older people, you’re always going to be looked down upon or judged any time you do anything out of the ordinary,” he said. “We were told for so many decades that this plant was the worst thing possible, that it’s in line with heroin. We’re growing up, or at least I hope so.”
click to enlarge Some packaged "flower" from the Mesa location of Territory Dispensary. - JACOB TYLER DUNN
Some packaged "flower" from the Mesa location of Territory Dispensary.
Jacob Tyler Dunn
Medical cardholders in Arizona may consume two and a half ounces of marijuana every two weeks. That’s more than enough to make a difference, advocates of the drug say.

An ounce of cannabis flower typically makes about 60 joints, but it could be enough for 100, depending on potency.

“This is becoming recognized as a serious treatment,” Ellenwood said.

Medical marijuana users like Ellenwood pay a 5.6 percent sales tax to the state, plus another percent or so for county and city tax.

For recreational use, there is a transaction privilege tax rate and an excise tax of 16 percent on retail sales.

In 2021, the state collected $53.6 million from Ellenwood and other medical cardholders. From recreational users, it collected a whopping $121.4 million, according to the Arizona Department of Revenue.

Ellenwood doesn’t like the disparate tax differential between medical and recreational users.

“I think that everyone should have full access to everything at the medical tax level because it’s as much or more of a medicine as, say, vitamin C,” he said. “For medical: almost no tax, if any. That would be fair to everyone.”

Arizona dispensaries sold 140,000 pounds of marijuana and edibles to medical cardholders in 2021, according to the health department.

“Cannabis saved my life.”

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Ellenwood, who’s lived here since 2004, thinks Arizona is headed in the right direction.

He's sick of the stigmas that surround marijuana use – which is most prevalent in his own age demographic, data shows.

“I think it’s one of the safest medicines out there,” Ellenwood said. “It changed Barbara's life and it saved mine.”
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Elias Weiss is a staff writer at the Phoenix New Times. A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, he reported first for the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was editor of the Chatham Star-Tribune in Southern Virginia, where he covered politics and law. In 2020, the Virginia Press Association awarded him first place in the categories of Government Writing and Breaking News Writing for non-daily newspapers statewide.
Contact: Elias Weiss