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Medical marijuana purchases outpace users

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The number of pounds of medical marijuana being purchased and consumed in Arizona is increasing at a rate twice as fast as the number of people legally entitled to use it.

New figures from the state Department of Health Services show that Arizonans smoked, ate or otherwise consumed nearly 60 tons of the drug in 2018.

Put another way, it’s the equivalent of nearly 122,000 one-pound bags of Oreos – or Chips Ahoy if that’s your preference.

The figure is a 40.7 percent increase over 2017 sales figures reported to state health officials.

But the number of medical marijuana patients is up less than 20 percent, to the current tally of slightly more than 186,000.

The health department does not provide figures on how much money the state-licensed dispensaries –  the only places where marijuana legally can be sold – took in during 2018.

But if marijuana runs an average of $200 an ounce – and the prices can vary both up and down from that, depending on the dispensary and the quality of the drug – that’s close to $400 million changing hands at the retail level.

Will Humble, who was state health director when voters approved the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act in 2010, said the disparity between the increase in the amounts of the drug being bought and the number of users doesn’t necessarily mean that the average medical marijuana users is buying or consuming more.

“You’ve got a subset of the patients that are buying a lot of marijuana,” he said.

“And then there are patients that aren’t buying anything hardly,” Humble said, at least not from state-licensed dispensaries. Instead they may have obtained their state-issued card allowing them to be able to possess the drug without fear of arrest and prosecution but have found it more convenient to simply make their purchases from street dealers.

That, said Humble, may be changing as some of these buyers decide it’s not just more convenient to go to an official dispensaries but that they also can get a better variety of products there, particularly edibles ranging from gummies and chocolate bars to various oils and infusions.

The numbers suggest some basis for that.

While whole marijuana — leaves and flowers — remains the most popular form for buyers, its year-over-year use is up less than 40 percent. But sales of edibles and other forms jumped by 55 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Under the 2010 voter approved law, patients with certain medical conditions and a doctor’s recommendation can obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana every two weeks.

Those conditions range from cancer and glaucoma to AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder. But by far the largest category of patients are those who complain of “chronic pain.”

Other information from the new report includes:

§  Males with medical marijuana cards outnumber females by a margin of 3-2;

§  The largest group of cardholders is in the 31-to-40 age group;

§  More sales are made on Saturdays than any other day of the week;

The 2018 sales figures of nearly 122,000 pounds have once again set a new record. That compares with  less than 87,000 pounds for 2017 and about 58,600 pounds the year before that.

That was a 52 percent increase over 2015 sales which, in turn, were double the 2014 numbers.

Medical marijuana users by county:

Apache – 835

Cochise – 2,666

Coconino – 3,799

Gila – 1,751

Graham – 741

Greenlee – 196

La Paz – 347

Maricopa – 119,941

Mohave – 5,062

Navajo – 2,364

Pima – 25,954

Pinal – 10,901

Santa Cruz – 539

Yavapai – 9,277

Yuma – 1,629

– Source: Arizona Department of Health Services

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