To say that public opinion has pivoted in favor of legalizing medical marijuana is an understatement. A Quinnipiac University poll in April 2017 found that 94% of respondents wanted medicinal weed to be legalized. Also, 76% of respondents believed that the federal government should respect a state’s right to allow cannabis businesses to operate freely.
There was good news on that score recently when Jeff Sessions was fired as Attorney General. Meanwhile, in the 2018 midterms, Utah and Missouri voted ‘yes’ to medical marijuana, while Michigan upgraded from medical to recreational weed. It seems that cannabis can’t stop winning in the United States, but wait! Everything is not as it appears.
There is a stark difference between something being legal, and having access to it. Sadly, several states have approved medical cannabis, but residents have no way of buying it due to lack of availability, or because physicians refuse to educate themselves about the herb.
The medical marijuana law was signed in January 2010, yet when you fast forward eight years, there is hardly anywhere to buy it! As at mid-2018, there were five dispensaries in a state with a population of nine million people. To make matters worse, the marijuana law only allows a maximum of six dispensaries!
When medical marijuana officially became legal in Ohio in June 2016, it was hoped that residents in need would have access to products from licensed dispensaries within a month. Over two years later, and just three of 26 licensed operators had received their all-important operations certificates from the state government.
While Ohio plans to license approximately 40 processors, only seven had been licensed by mid-2018. On the plus side, over 200 physicians are approved by the state medical board to recommend weed to patients, but given the size of the state, it is a LONG drive for a lot of prospective patients. Incredibly, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy has yet to open its online patient registry!
On paper, Massachusetts is a great state for weed lovers because it was made legal recreationally in 2016. However, in practice, its implementation of medical and recreational marijuana law has been severely lacking. Medical weed became legal back in 2012 when approximately 60% of voters said ‘yes’ to Question 3.
Alas, the state made a complete mess of everything. Needlessly complicated licensing procedures ensured that it took well over two years for the law to be enforced. Just when everything seemed to be going smoothly, the state added a maximum lead level requirement. This seems like a perfectly reasonable regulation, except that the maximum level was so low that even grocery store vegetables failed the test!
It gets worse! Such was the confusion, medical marijuana patients, who had been approved by licensed physicians, were arrested even though state law allowed them to grow and possess weed grown in their residence!
Recreational marijuana was made legal in 2016 but true to form, Massachusetts made people wait, and wait. Finally, it became possible to purchase marijuana recreationally from a pharmacy in November 2018. In typical Massachusetts fashion, there were only two dispensaries which meant a long drive, and an even longer wait to get the weed.
Medical cannabis became legal in Minnesota back in 2014, and it began by opening eight dispensaries. Four years later, and there are still just eight dispensaries, in a state with an area of over 86,000 square miles. Moreover, those who live in the north of the state have a long journey because Hibbing is the northernmost dispensary location. If you live in Roseau County, for example, it’s a 240-mile trip.
It is also one of the strictest regarding qualifying medical conditions, with just 13 at the last count. Incredibly, medical weed was only made available to Alzheimer’s patients in January 2019! The initial program was designed to help just 5,000 people, about 0.1% of the state’s population!
Admittedly, Delaware is a small state, but it doesn’t excuse the lack of dispensaries or the delay in implementing the medical marijuana program. Weed was made legal back in 2011, but the program was suspended for several years because Governor Jack Markell was afraid of federal intervention.
The first dispensary only opened in 2016 and at the time of writing, there are only three dispensaries in Delaware, after the most recent one opened in Smyrna in June 2018.
This is another fairly small state that implemented its medical marijuana program in an inept fashion. Weed was legalized for medical use in July 2013, but the law only allowed for the opening of four dispensaries, and you needed to have one of five qualifying conditions to be eligible.
It took two years to open any dispensary, and during that period, residents of New Hampshire had no way to access weed legally. Dispensaries finally began opening in 2016, but as of today, there are only four open in the entire state.
It seems strange to include a state that has hundreds of recreational marijuana dispensaries, but things have taken a turn for the worse if you are a medical marijuana cardholder. Back in 2016, there were more medical marijuana dispensaries in Oregon than Starbucks (over 400). However, since recreational cannabis was legalized, medicinal weed dispensaries have closed en masse.
Today, there are eight, and there are just three medical marijuana processors in the state. For some patients, it is becoming almost impossible to find their specific products. Recreational dispensaries can’t carry certain medicinal products so for medically licensed patients in need of high doses of THC; it costs a fortune to get enough of a dose to sustain them, and that’s if they can even find a dispensary that stocks what they need in the first place.
Medical marijuana only became legal in Missouri in 2018, so it is too early to tell whether it will have enough dispensaries. Those who backed the legalization of weed through Amendment 2 believe there will be up to 192 dispensaries ready to sell by 2020.
That’s great news, but for individuals hoping to get a medical marijuana card, there’s a slight problem: The state’s physicians are not likely to budge. All of the state’s major physician groups, such as the Kansas City Medical Society, opposed every marijuana measure on the ballot. It will take months to develop rules, and finding a doctor that approves you could be tough.
Final Thoughts on Medical Marijuana Availability
While it is natural to celebrate the legalization of medical marijuana in any state, it is best if you keep the champagne on ice. As the list of states above shows, there is a big difference between making weed legal, and ensuring residents have easy access.
There are other states not on this list that have dispensaries crowded in specific areas. If you live in a rural area, it is likely that there isn’t a dispensary within 100 miles of your town. In many states, especially ones that have only recently allowed medical cannabis, it will take years for dispensaries to be easily accessible to most people. But for those in need of weed, it is time they don’t have.