Understanding Medical Cannabis – 1. Let The People Grow (They Do Anyway) 2. 150,000 Full-Time Marijuana Jobs in the U.S., a 22% Increase from Last Year 3. Legalizing Weed Has Done What $1,000,000,000,000 and a 40 Year Drug War Couldn’t

Part Two in a series of opinion pieces by Shane Le Brun, Coordinator, Medical Cannabis Awareness New Zealand (MCANZ)
There is strong public support for significant reform of Medical Cannabis (MC) regulation.
The system currently in place, which focuses wholly on pharmaceutically trialed cannabis-based medicines, removes patient and prescriber choice, and costs are prohibitive.
New Zealand may have the highest priced MC in the western world – a side-effect of our remote location and small market.
MCANZ has avoided the issue of ‘grow your own’ cannabis partly to avoid the stereotypes around the more strident and vocal supporters of MedCan, partly to be seen as the sensible voice on the issue.
As a charity it is essential that we have repeat business with medical specialists in order to enable us to best advocate on behalf of patients.
For this reason we often find ourselves biting our tongues and generally try not to do anything that would be perceived as too negative or critical of the medical profession.
Another part of our advocacy with doctors is our decision to take a stance that is completely against the smoking of cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Smoking cannabis doesn’t fit with the Ministry of Health targets for smoke-free New Zealand by 2025, and when there are alternative options such as vaporising or edible products, there is no longer any reason for patients to smoke cannabis.Some western countries have recognised the ability to grow one’s own medicine as a basic human right.
Canada in particular went down this path.
The Canadian Supreme Court overruled Parliament, to rule in favour of patients rights in this regard.
Essentially, patients took the Canadian government to court and won.
For this reason the initial Canadian cannabis regime was set up in 2001.
Other western countries have followed suit.
Some states of Germany are more pragmatic, by allowing patients to grow their own cannabis if they exhaust all routes for accessing funding for the expensive pharmaceutical options available. (In a New Zealand context that would mean, if Pharmac does not subsidise the product then you would have the right to grow.)In South Africa, most recently the entire cannabis law was erased legalizing both medical and recreational use.
Again in this case this was recognised as a human rights issue.Unfortunately New Zealanders’ human rights don’t appear to count for much to the current government as displayed by Paula Bennett’s faux pas several weeks ago on the issue of the rights of gang members.
There appears to be no accessible mechanism by which to challenge the goverment on the cannabis issue on human rights grounds.

For this reason alone, MCANZ has completely detached itself from the debate around making cannabis a human rights issue under the current government.
Instead, we have focused on Canada with success in getting reasonably priced Canadian products to our shores and into patients’ hands.
From this experience, I would point out that with a good domestic industry, the demand to grow our own would be greatly reduced. In Canada, over 200,000 patients are registered for access, yet less than six and a half thousand have permits to grow.
This lack of desire to grow cannabis compared to that existing in New Zealand is directly linked to the ease of access.
If licensed cannabis in NZ was stronger AND cheaper than illicit cannabis and already processed into edible forms, then the demand equation would shift quite rapidly and people wouldn’t bother with the extra effort required.
The single greatest benefit of ‘grow your own’ to patients is cost.
Even with a “near pharmaceutical” regime the cost can still be several hundred dollars a month.
If there is no political will to fund even those low costs (Compared to the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars pharmaceutical options cost) then for beneficiaries and ACC claimants the only realistic option is to grow their own. Thousands of patients are already doing this, so this rather controversial law change would merely be decriminalising what is already happening.

The most important thing is making patients safe from police interference, as the police treat cultivating a class C drug as a heinous crime meaning charges are immediately laid on arrest.
Triple amputees and people who have been battling leukemia for several years have been prosecuted for cultivating.
It is the view of MCANZ that this is not in the public interest, and at the very least a legal defence of ‘medical necessity’ needs to be put on the books to ensure police leave patients well enough alone.

The main concern raised around a ‘grow your own’ policy appears to be around medical cannabis leaking onto the black market.
This is, if anything, a minor harm – more people will be able to access cannabis without dealing with organised crime such as tinny houses et cetera.
A sickness beneficiary or an ACC claimant making a little extra cash from surplus cannabis is certainly at the lower end of social harms, however a robust system would have measures in place to prevent such offending by controlling plant quantities.
This would not be a free-for-all and there would be penalties for abuse of the system as there are now.

The other concern is about control in a clinical setting.
Doctors will have to rely on the patients declaring how much they consume if they seek to keep tabs on use.
This hasn’t been an issue in Canada where doctors don’t directly prescribe particular cannabis products but effectively grant the patient access with an upper limit on how much they can consume.
The patients then order products that meet the requirements of this prescribed amount as they see fit.

One of the risks of a ‘grow your own’ system that is not widely known is the risk to property from people growing indoors. We don’t have a major issue with this in New Zealand, however in California there are multiple house fires each week in some regions from indoor grow-ops catching fire.
This can be due to a multitude of reasons but primarily people get greedy and install more and larger lights than tents were designed to house (lights can be up to 1000 Watts).
All it takes is a single cooling fan to fail while the person is at work and they return to a burnt down house.

A simple solution to the safety issue is to have a licensing scheme with annual inspections.
If recreational cannabis is to remain illegal then people’s medical grows will be highly desirable and patients will revert to growing indoors for greater security from theft.
Safety inspections on an annual basis could keep tabs on how big peoples grows are getting and also mitigate the fire risk by ensuring there are smoke alarms and other safety equipment and perhaps ensuring that there are not too many heat sources such as lights in a small area.

In other countries there are also limits that are placed on the size of a grow patients.
Many of these limits aren’t terribly effective, for example in Colorado there is a ninety-nine plant limit.
Initial thoughts would be that this is an absurd limit, but it was set with compassionate suppliers in mind.
However with the ability to grow massive outdoor plants, these plants limits take on less meaning.
A better solution is to institute an area limit, of a certain area per patient (for example 4m2 in flower at any one time).

Cannabis in Oregon, making a mockery of plant limits such as those proposed by The Opportunities Party

Another issue that must be addressed is product quality for the safety of the patients.
In the underground world of “Green Fairies” or compassionate suppliers in New Zealand, the long-term growers, on the whole make very high-quality products. However, there is a new wave of enthusiasts and get rich quick types, some of which are preying on patients by making products that are substandard.
There are accusations of people lacing their topicals with DMSO, a potentially dangerous ingredient.
In other cases there have been people making butane extracts and not purging or evaporating the butane, leaving dangerous residue in the products for the patients to consume.
I have personally met someone who qualifies for the Darwin awards, for cooking Butane Hash Oil in a caravan unventilated. He is permanently disfigured from the resultant explosion.

Such risks can be countered with education, some of which is already happening illicitly as cooperatives are beginning to be set up.
Generally the illicit market is improving and self-professionalising, lately there has been dramatic improvement in labelling and specification of roughly what ratio of THC/CBD is in the products.
As the availability of specially bred medical strains with known cannabinoid ratio’s increases in New Zealand, this standard will no-doubt continue to improve.

Despite these negatives, many countries and states of the USA have implemented successful home grow regimes that greatly enhance patient access and reduce the final cost to the patient of medical cannabis.
The main issues are around safety of the grow itself and the safety of the finalised products should the patient wish to make concentrates.
All of these issues can be mitigated quite substantially through a mix of education and regulation.
There is a perk to being late to legalising medical cannabis, we can see what has worked and what hasn’t worked overseas and plan for the unintended consequences that may emerge after law reform.

The patients already grow, no amount of cracking down will change that.
In the interests of recognising cannabis as a health issue, which even the current government has accepted, the best thing to do would be to design a regime that focuses on nullifying the negative effects encountered overseas, and providing the right knowledge and tools to patients and compassionate suppliers to ensure the products are as clean and safe as can be reasonably expected in a domestic environment.
Prohibition has been futile, as is continuing it.
So long as the only options on the table legally cost thousands per month for small doses, thousands of patients will opt out of the legal supply chain and grow/make their own cannabis medical products.

Editor’s Note:

To have your say on Medical Cannabis go to the Scoop’s HiveMind page and vote on various statements on the issue or submit your own views.
Click here to go to the HiveMind.
Part 1 of this series of opinion pieces covered whether New Zealand really needs ‘Pharmaceutical Grade Cannabis.’ It is available to read here:

2. TheJointBlog: There Are Nearly 150,000 Full-Time Marijuana Jobs in the U.S., a 22% Increase from Last Year
By Anthony Martinelli|Sep. 13th, 2017

This numbers marks a 22% increase from last year, when Leafly found that 122,814 jobs relied on the legal status of cannabis in America.
In just 12 months, the legal cannabis industry has added 26,490 jobs to the nation’s workforce.

In order to calculate this, Leafly “devised a method that roughly translated annual sales into FTE (full time equivalent) jobs.”
You can find the full explanation of that method here.
As  noted by Leafly; “Not every job in the industry is a full-time gig. So these figures are FTE jobs, in which two half-time jobs equals one FTE.
Also, it’s worth noting that these are jobs supported by legal cannabis. Not every one of those jobs touches the plant.”

These estimates include lawyers who advise business owners, electricians who consult on grow operations, hydroponic farming supply houses, insurance brokers, software developers, realtors who specialize in commercial cannabis real estate, etc., etc..

Adult Use and Medical

This is a tough market to figure out because such a high volume of sales occur to tourists during cruise ship season. Growing booms in summer, too, with the whole midnight sun thing happening. Depending on the month you choose, you could extrapolate to an annual market as low at $27 million and as high as $51 million. We’ll stick to the low side and estimate Alaska as a $30 million market in 2017. That supports 542 FTE jobs.

Arizona: 6,520


Arizona has 136,515 medical marijuana patients. That’s a per-capita rate of 2%, one of the highest in the nation, and it yields an annual market worth $360.8 million, which supports 6,520 jobs.

Arkansas: 11


Weeks after the application period for medical marijuana dispensary licenses, the state Department of Health had only received two completed forms. So we’re keeping our estimate of private-sector jobs at six (three for each application). Within state government, we figure there are probably about five full-time jobs supported by the need to create and carry out the licensing process. Even at mature build-out, the market here doesn’t figure to be robust. Arkansas has a population of 3 million. Qualifying conditions are strictly limited, and concern over the illegality of owning both a gun license and an MMJ card may keep a number of people from obtaining theirs. The buy-in for dispensaries is steep, too: a $15,000 application fee, and $100,000 for a license. With a tight capture rate of 0.09% (about that of New Jersey prior to its recent reforms), that would lead to an MMJ patient population of about 2,700. That’s a $7 million market, which would support about 129 jobs.

California: 47,711

Adult Use and Medical

The legal medical market in California is notoriously difficult to quantify. Last year we settled on an estimate of $2.4 billion. We’re conservatively estimating 10% growth that encompasses the natural expansion of the MMJ market as well as ramped-up hiring by companies getting ready for the 2018 opening of the state’s adult-use market. A 10% bump puts the annual value of the California market at $2.64 billion, which supports 47,711 FTE jobs.

Colorado:  26,891

Adult Use and Medical

Colorado sales, reported by the state, seem to have reached a leveling point in the past five months, averaging about $126 million per month since March. That translates into an annual market of $1.488 billion in sales, which supports 26,891 FTE jobs. We consider that a conservative estimate, because Colorado hosts an unusually high number of ancillary businesses that serve legal markets around the country. In legal affairs—to take just one sector—firms like Vicente Sederberg and Hoban Law Group have expanded rapidly and opened satellite offices in more than a half-dozen legal states.

Connecticut: 911


As of August 13, the state had 19,077 registered patients, nine dispensaries, and four producers. Based on the patient count, that’s a $50.4 million annual market, which supports 911 FTE jobs. That’s an increase of 44%, or 279 jobs, over our 2016 estimate.

Delaware: 67


Straight up: Delaware has terrible records on its medical marijuana program. The state counted 1,407 patients in FY 2016. That translates into $3.7 million in sales, which supports 67 full time jobs. That’s actually a decrease from the 81 jobs we estimated in 2016. How is that possible? It’s Delaware. They really don’t know what’s in their own data. We’re hoping for a better 2017 from Joe Biden’s old home. 

District of Columbia: 257

Adult Use and Medical

Last year we noted about 3,500 medical marijuana patients registered with the District of Columbia Department of Health. As of August 1 of this year, that number had grown to 5,372. At $2,643 in purchases per patient annually, that makes up a market worth $14.2 million—not quite double what it was late last year. That supports about 257 full time jobs.

Florida: 1,290


We’ve seen wild estimates of the state’s potential patient pool at upwards of 500,000. With a total population of 30 million, that would be a 2.5% capture rate—not impossible, but unrealistically high. In a report prepared for state officials last year, the Marijuana Policy Group estimated the patient pool at closer to 300,000. That would put the market at a value of $793 million, which would support more than 14,000 jobs. That’s at full maturity. As of July 27, though, there are only 26,968 registered patients. The growth is phenomenal; on June 7, there were 16,760 patients. At that rate, we could see up to 50,000 patients by the end of 2017. For now, we’ll base the market on 27,000 patients, call it $71.4 million, and estimate that it supports 1,290 full time jobs.

Hawaii: 860


Hawaii recorded 18,004 patients as of July 31. That translates into an annual market of $47.6 million, which supports 860 jobs. The data from Hawaii is tricky. The state has a high per-capita patient rate—with a population of 1.4 million, 18,000 patients represent a 1.25% MMJ rate—and continues to grow at a rate of about 500 new patients per month. At the same time, the first of the state’s eight licensed dispensaries only just recently opened on Maui. We’re a little hesitant to go with the 860 figure; that one dispensary isn’t supporting all those jobs, obviously. But 18,000 patients have to get their medicine somewhere. At this point most of them are accessing it, legally or semi-legally, outside of the licensed dispensary system—and that supports local growers and caregivers. We’ll call it 860 with reservations, and we’ll hope that Hawaii has all eight dispensaries open by this time next year.

Illinois: 1,352


The Illinois Department of Public Health’s Medical Cannabis Division counts 27,100 patients as of August. That pencils out to about $71.6 million in annual sales. State records show that sales through the first seven months of 2017 came to $43.6 million, which puts annual sales at $74.8 million. We’ll go with that figure, which supports 1,352 jobs. That’s an increase of 466 jobs, or a growth rate of 49%, over the past year.

Louisiana: 22

Medical (soon)

When it comes to Louisiana’s medical marijuana program, very little makes sense to us. Earlier this year, the Las Vegas-based cannabis company GB Sciences agreed to pay Louisiana State University $1.2 million per year for five years for permission to grow medical cannabis at a secure location on the LSU campus. Patients are expected to access the market in 2018. Using $1.2 million per year as a kind of “market,” we figure that supports at least 22 FTE jobs at LSU.

Maine: 942

Adult Use and Medical

Homegrow is huge in Maine. How do we know? There are 51,324 registered medical marijuana patients in the state. That should translate into about $135 million in annual sales. Instead, the state only recorded $26.8 million in dispensary sales in 2016. Industry officials estimated an additional $27.3 million in caregiver sales in 2016. That’s a total market of $52.1 million, which supports 942 jobs.

Maryland: 559


Medical Maryland still hasn’t opened its dispensaries, but they say they’ll be serving patients by the end of 2017. In the meantime, there are actually quite a few people working in Maryland’s cannabis industry already, gearing up for opening day. And we have some unique data on those jobs. Because Maryland’s medical marijuana law contains diversity clauses, the state keeps statistical information on industry owners and employees. According to that data, there are currently 559 people working in the cannabis industry in Maryland.

Massachusetts: 1,873

Adult Use and Medical

As of July 31, the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services recorded 39,202 active registered patients. That translates into an existing medical market worth about $103.6 million, which supports 1,873 jobs. About 800 new patients join the registry every month. The opening of the adult-use market next year is expected to change all that, of course. With 6.8 million residents, Massachusetts has a population nearly the size of Washington’s—with another 4.5 million people in Connecticut and Rhode Island within driving distance. It wouldn’t be surprising to see annual sales approaching $1 billion by 2019.

Michigan: 12,515


The state reported 218,556 registered patients in late 2016. We estimate a 10% growth in those numbers over the course of this year, putting the patient count at around 240,400. We can extrapolate that to an annual market of $635.4 million, which supports 11,483 jobs.

Minnesota: 295


In one of the nation’s most restrictive medical marijuana programs, Minnesota’s two licensed cannabis manufacturers have lost $11 million in the past two years. The reason? Not enough patients. That’s changing. According to quarterly data from the Minnesota Department of Health, the state recorded 6,184 patients on June 30. That’s nearly double the total from 2016. The annual market is around $16.3 million, enough to support 295 jobs.

Montana: 621


Montana’s entire MMJ industry went through a painful shutdown last year; after a November ballot measure revived dispensaries, patients are finding medicine again. As of July, the state counted 17,819 patients, with 616 providers. That translates into a $47.1 million annual market, which supports 851 jobs. That’s a decrease from our late 2016 estimate, because of all the dispensary closures in 2016.

Nevada: 4,193

Adult Use and Medical

Nevada isn’t expected to release first-month adult use sales figures until later this fall, so we’ve had to do some back-of-the-envelope estimating here. There are 60 cannabis stores open in Nevada. The majority are in the Las Vegas area; nearly all the rest are in Reno/Sparks. Based on what we know from other adult-use states, we’ll estimate that the state’s top 10 stores will bring in $750,000 a month by the end of the year. The next 35 will realize $300,000 per month, with the bottom 15 bringing in about $90,000 a month. That adds up to annual sales of $232 million, which supports 4,193 jobs. We expect that number to continue to rise as a stop at a legal cannabis store becomes a part of the Vegas experience for many of the city’s 43 million annual visitors.

New Hampshire: 100


New Hampshire just opened its medical marijuana program up to patients with chronic pain and/or PTSD, which should expand the patient base considerably. In its 2016 annual report, the state’s Therapeutic Cannabis Program Registry counted 2,089 patients. That should support a market of around $5.5 million, which in turn supports 100 jobs.

New Jersey: 516


New Jersey counted 10,799 active patients in 2016. That’s an annual market of $28.5 million, which supports 516 jobs.

New Mexico: 1,102


As of July, the state had 45,441 active patients licensed, and 6,182 active personal production licensees. $15.2 million worth of medical marijuana products were purchased in the second quarter of 2017. That extrapolates into an annual market worth $60.8 million, which supports 1,102 full time jobs. That’s an increase of 52%, or 379 jobs, over our 2016 estimate.

New York: 1,341


The inclusion of chronic pain as a qualifying condition has finally made New York State’s medical marijuana program viable. Since adding the condition in March, the state’s patient population has grown by 87%. New York is now adding about 3,000 patients every month. The New York Department of Health had 28,077 patients registered as of Aug. 22. That translates into an annual market of $74.2 million, which supports 1,341 jobs. That’s more than twice as many jobs as in late 2016—an increase of 121%.

North Dakota: 6


The state of North Dakota has budgeted money for six full-time employees at the Department of Health. Until they roll out the regulations and grant licenses, there isn’t much else happening here.

Ohio: 90


Ohio’s market isn’t open yet, but plenty of people are already hard at work. In July, 185 companies applied for Ohio’s 24 available medical cannabis growing licenses. The state has also awarded substantial contracts for seed-to-sale tracking systems and licensing design. The medical market in Ohio could eventually be significant, as state law allows for a wide variety of qualifying conditions, including chronic pain. If 0.5% of the population carries a card, that’s a market of 55,000 patients, or around $150 million annually. For now, though, we’ll estimate that each of those applying companies required the work of at least one half-time partner. So 90 FTE jobs.

Oregon: 10,843

Adult Use and Medical

According to the Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission, sales for the past five months have averaged $43.32 million, with a rise of about $5 million in sales every month. We estimate that by the end of 2017, Oregon will be a $600 million annual market. That supports 10,843 jobs.

Pennsylvania: 90


Pennsylvania granted 27 permits for MMJ dispensaries on June 29. Each is eligible to open a total of three locations. There are expected to be 52 open within the year (total). If you figure at least three full time owners/operators of those dispensaries, that’s about 90 jobs right now. The dispensaries may become operational on Jan. 1, 2018.

Puerto Rico: 215


A few months ago, the US territory has 4,000 registered patients, with 7,000 more awaiting their patient IDs. We’ll estimate 4,500 patients with cards by now. That equals a market size of $11.89 million, which supports 215 FTE jobs.

Rhode Island: 781


The state’s 16,360 patients and 3,000 caregivers translate into a $43.2 million market, which supports 781 jobs. That’s an increase of 78%, or 342 additional jobs, over 2016.

Vermont: 227


Vermont’s patient count is rising slowly, by about 29 new patients per week. The state doesn’t report its patient counts very often. Last November they had 3,487. By this June, they tallied 4,438. By Sept. 1, we expect the state to have 4,750 patients registered. That pencils out to an annual market of $12.5 million, which supports 227 jobs. That’s a 59% increase over 2016.

Washington: 26,556

Adult Use and Medical

Sales for the past four months (March–June) averaged $122.4 million. We expect Washington to nearly hit $1.5 billion in sales in 2017, at $1.469 billion. That supports 26,556 jobs.

West Virginia: 5


Move along, folks, nothing to see here. The Bureau for Public Health may not issue patient ID cards until July 1, 2019. The Bureau is currently drafting rules to implement the Medical Cannabis Act signed into law on April 19, 2017. We figure there may be 5 FTE jobs for state employees working out the regulatory system.

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