Wherever legalization goes, trouble follows for medical marijuana users

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California’s pioneering medical marijuana system is feeling the pinch of legalization.

The number of Californians obtaining medical authorization cards to use weed for medical purposes continues to drop.

Only 1,269 patients have enrolled in the medical marijuana identification card program this year, according to the state’s public health department.

The voluntary program is designed to help cops identify those who smoke pot medicinally. Since 2016, it has also saved patients the tax on pot purchases.

More than 12,000 medical marijuana users were enrolled in the program in 2010. That number dropped to just under 6,000 in 2018, the year California legalized recreational use of pot. To put that in context, there are more than 915,000 medical marijuana patients in California.

Why the collapse?

Proving to the police that you’re authorized to use cannabis is less of a concern in the legal era. But for many patients, the costs and restrictions associated with being part of the medical system outweigh the tax savings.

A similar trend is taking place in other states.

In Oregon, reports suggest that two-thirds of all medical patients have given up their cards since legalization.

Even states that have tried to keep their medical systems in place post-legalization have seen access for marijuana patients decline.

In Denver, for example, the number of medical marijuana dispensaries dropped by 30 per cent following legalization. As a result, medical patients with specialized needs have begun running into problems getting their medicine. The industry has gradually begun to cater to the demand from recreational users.

In Canada, there have also been persistent complaints from medical patients about medical users being neglected in favour of recreational weed.

The federal government has committed to keeping the medical marijuana program alive until 2023. At the same time, however, the government continues to tax weed for medical patients.

Blame the medical establishment.

In North America, it has never been psyched about medical cannabis. And with recreational use now legal, the Canadian Medical Association, for one, has been outspoken in saying that the medical system should fold.

In 2017, researchers looked at the effects of legalization on medpot patients.

Advocates say the two systems are functionally different. One is based on getting high. The other is based on treatment. Governments don’t want to administer two distinct systems, so they write regulations that blanket both.

It’s probably a good idea, for example, to limit recreational users to low-dose edible products. It’s ridiculous for medical patients who are more likely to have a higher tolerance.

As a result, it has become all too easy to let one system subsume the other, even in California where the dispensary model originated.

Every victory of the legalization movement has been won on the backs of medical patients, often the most chronically ill. Governments and recreational users should remember that.

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