Medical Marijuana Applications Slowing Down; Arizona Nearly to 15,000 Qualified Patients

The rate of Arizonans applying for medical-marijuana cards has slowed down in the last couple of months, a stat that could indicate public confusion about pot's newfound legality.

A quick look at a recent update on the state Department of Health Services website shows that 14,852 people have been approved to legally possess marijuana under state law. The number of applications received only is slightly higher in the October 27 report; the state's been approving more than 99 percent of applications that come in.

After monthly increases of about 30 percent in the number of processed applications in July and August, the rate of increase dropped by almost half by September's end, to just under 18 percent.

From the end of September to October 27, the rate of increase was only 13.3 percent.

Putting those figures into words: Interest in the program appears to be waning.

Why would that be?

Does Arizona have fewer people who tolerate, need or -- dare we say it -- enjoy marijuana than California or Colorado? (California has an estimated one million qualified patients, while Colorado has more than 127,000 as of the end of August.)

That's doubtful. As the above-linked article on California notes, Colorado and Montana (which have better tracking systems than California's freewheeling program) show that 2 to 3 percent of the population signed up to possess weed legally. This means that Arizona, with about 6.4 million people, should have up to 128,000 folks (that's 2 percent of the population) who should be at least interested in signing up.

True, the medical-marijuana programs in California and Colorado have been around longer and have had more time to build up interest. And even if Arizona's registry only goes up by 15 percent a month, the number of patients will surpass 100,000 in about four years, (by all means, check our math on that, and let us know if you disagree.)

Still, assuming our estimate is correct that there's 125,000 or so Arizonans who would like to have a card, we'd expect the registry to be booming much more than it is.

Our best guess is that Arizonans are hesitating to apply for cards because they're not sure if the program still is valid (and because there are no legal dispensaries in the state yet) thanks to Governor Jan Brewer's actions to thwart voters in Arizona.

And they're not sure if it'll be valid in the near future, thanks to President Obama's actions to thwart voters and state legislatures around the country.

Carolyn Short, who led the unsuccessful campaign last year to defeat Arizona's Prop 203, recently lobbied Brewer to halt issuing registration cards, just as the governor halted  the dispensary program. Short believes that a federal judge ultimately will rule that Arizona's medical marijuana is illegal, which will end the state's entire medical pot program.

If the rate of people applying for medical-marijuana cards in Arizona keeps decreasing, then eventually, the question of what the feds do will be irrelevant.


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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.