Growing Forward: How Would Arizona’s Marijuana Program Compare?

As Arizona officials continue to harass the state’s medical-cannabis patients and dispensaries, the rest of the country barrels toward full legalization.

Thirty states and Washington, D.C., have authorized medical-marijuana programs; nine also have legalized recreational cannabis for adults. The U.S. now has an estimated total of 2.1 million cannabis patients and nearly 2,500 dispensaries. Patients make up just more than 1 percent of the total population in these states.

Since 2016, seven states have instituted medical-marijuana programs and five have legalized recreational cannabis.

Regardless of the political climate in Arizona and nationally, a tide of legalization seems to represent the will of the people — a will likely to grow stronger as younger generations tend to disavow the purported dangers of marijuana in favor of individual liberty.

If cannabis finally does become fully legal, the industry will enter a second stage of expansion as dispensaries and secondary services, such as edible or tincture and topical companies, battle it out for a slice of that national market share.

The biggest cannabis companies likely will result from corporations laying foundations in multiple states, but if the federal ban gets lifted, already having your own dispensary puts you in a much better position to go national than anyone looking to enter the market.

With the future in mind, how does Arizona’s cannabis environment stack up to other states?

For starters, Arizona has one of the highest percentage of patients in the country — 2.54 percent of residents possess a registration card. The state lags behind only Maine (which legalized recreational cannabis in 2016) with about 3.9 percent, and Michigan, with about 2.7 percent.

Arizona has one of the highest registration fees for patients at $150 per renewal, but that doesn’t always seem to be a factor in the percentage of patients.

For instance, Oregon, New Jersey, and Minnesota set their registration fees at $200. New Jersey and Minnesota have some of the lowest numbers of patients per capita, but Oregon, which legalized recreational cannabis in 2014, is about average at around 1 percent.

Most states have chosen to set their registration fees at $50, but Maine, New Mexico, and Maryland don’t charge any fees at all. In Washington, the fee is $1. However, the number of patients in these states vary from 3.9 percent in Maine to only .65 percent in Maryland.

Arizona also has more dispensaries than any other medical-cannabis state with 130 licenses. Some recreational states have more — 261 in California, 520 in Colorado, and 598 in Oregon — but the next highest number of dispensaries in medical-only states is 68 in New Mexico.

This leaves Arizona fairly middle-of-the-road with 1,372 patients per dispensary. The national average in legal states is about 900 patients per dispensary.

In more expansive terms, Arizona has one dispensary for every 54,000 citizens in the state, which is good news if cannabis becomes available to the general population. By comparison, states like New Jersey have as few as one dispensary per 1.5 million people, and will likely have more growing pains post-prohibition.

The numbers add up to a pretty solid foundation for Arizona cannabis companies, which will benefit from operating in one of the largest markets in the country.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the state can’t take more steps to not only encourage cannabis companies to expand, but also to attract new businesses riding the wave.

Changes like lowering card costs, implementing testing regulation, expanding the list of qualifying conditions, and making concentrates legal again could not only help Arizona companies prepare for the second boom, but also make the state a welcoming environment for national companies looking to expand.

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