Sunday, November 8, 2009

Medical Marijuana Laws, a Work in Progress

If we want people to take medical marijuana seriously as medicine, we need to treat it like medicine. Compared to most FDA approved drugs, marijuana is a fairly safe drug, but it does have a potential for being abused.

I know the majority of people in California favor legalizing marijuana, and I agree, but for now it’s only legal as medicine. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see that the California medical marijuana law is being abused.

It seems everyone is addicted to money from marijuana. Everyone from patients who sell their excess marijuana, to legal and illegal growers, dispensaries, law enforcement, and even the doctors who do medical marijuana recommends.

In California growers can sell their marijuana wholesale for up to $4000.00 a pound, dispensaries add another $3600.00 a pound, that’s $7600.00. Today the price of gold is $1044.00 an ounce, the retail price of medical marijuana is around $475.00 an ounce. Only 10 outdoor marijuana plants can produce 20 pounds of high quality marijuana in six months, that’s $76,000.00, or the equivalent of producing 72.7 ounces of gold in your backyard. It’s these enormous profits that draw everyone from the guy next door, to organized criminal groups, and doctors to the profits from medical marijuana.

Even doctors are addicted to medical marijuana money. Doctors in the course of their regular practice should recommend marijuana, not medical practices setup to only recommend medical marijuana.

A doctor seeing 20 patients a day, and charging $150.00 for a medical marijuana recommendation, makes $3000.00 a day, $60,000.00 a month, or $720,000.00 a year. If some doctor was making $720,000.00 a year prescribing morphine, the medical board would shut them down in a heart beat.

I know a lot of people are upset by the dispensary raids lately in California, but the intent of the Compassionate Use Act was not for people to get rich selling medical marijuana. The intent of the Compassionate Use Act, was to help sick people get the medicine they need, but the absolute greed of the drug war has continued with medical marijuana.

How did wanting to help sick people, get translated into selling an easy to grow plant for almost its weight in gold. California is going through some adjustments as law makers, and law enforcement evaluate the intent of their medical marijuana law.

Many people disagree with dispensaries being required to document where their marijuana comes from, but without documentation how can we know where the marijuana came from? A grow ran by a couple of buddies out to make some money, or a Mexican cartel, a criminal organization, or worse yet someone who supports our enemies. I’m not trying to tie marijuana to terrorist or anything, but you must agree that it’s an easy way for any type of organization to raise a lot of money.

When I give LEAP presentations, I always tell people that until we remove the enormous profits from drugs, in this case marijuana, that drug dealers, and not the government will control, where marijuana is grown, where it’s sold, who it’s sold to, at what price, to what age customers, and where the profits go.

If the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act Initiative is approved by voters in 2010, it will attempt to remove the profits from medical marijuana by requiring dispensaries to operate on a not-for-profit basis; dispensaries may acquire marijuana from registered patients only if they receive no compensation. In California registered patients and other growers wholesale their excess marijuana for $3000-$4000.00 a pound.

Removing the profits for growers, and requiring dispensaries to only charge the actual costs to grow and operate their business, should go a long way to making medical marijuana more affordable for patients, and removing the profits that drive illegal grow operations.

Alcohol prohibition was an experiment, in 1919 looked like a good idea, but by 1933 we knew the experiment was a failure. Each new law is an experiment, some are good laws, some are bad laws, and some are a work in progress, like the Compassionate Use Act in California. Hopefully the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act Initiative will remove the profits from medical marijuana. As long as we look at history, and not make the same mistakes again and again, we’ll be ok.


  1. I'm sure the system in California has its share of people who are strictly in it to make a buck, but I don't think it's an environment dominated by selfish interests. Instead of exposing greed and criminality, I think California's dispensaries have exposed exactly how much demand there is for marijuana. Like Jay said, as long as the black market drives the price upwards of $20 per gram, the money is going to follow the marijuana no matter who is doing the selling.

    That's why I don't think this is a problem that could be "solved" by somehow guaranteeing that dispensaries are non-profit. The Arizona law discussed above sounds like it will simply drive home growers away from selling to dispensaries, and toward more conventional illegal sales. There's simply no way to remove the profit incentives when recreational use is outlawed. If we want to legitimize medical marijuana, we need to legitimize recreational marijuana. Otherwise, no amount of medical marijuana regulation -- short of a state-run supply chain, which would turn state workers into federal drug criminals -- will be able to "remove the profits that drive illegal grow operations."

  2. not-for-profit: Good idea. Please also require dispensaries to recommend the use of vaporizers and other non-smoking methods. Smoking MM, while not proven to lead to cancer, IS proven to lead to drug warriors using it as a weapon to fight MM.

  3. @Rhayader: "I don't think [CA's MM industry is] an environment dominated by selfish interests".

    Perhaps not, but the areas continuously highlighted by the news clearly are, and this is a major distraction from the help it's providing to sick people. Voters should be given some level of confidence that their intent to help sick people is not going to turn into what LA has (even though the situation in LA is due to the city council's failure to regulate).

  4. Fair enough Steve, but by assuring voters that dispensaries are "not-for-profit," we're assuring those same voters that a healthy marijuana black market will continue to thrive in their area. We're not giving the voters a choice between a wild west and sensible regulation. We're giving them a choice between a total wild west (outright prohibition), and a still-chaotic system in which a black market thrives (a strictly regulated medical system).

    People like to smoke pot, pure and simple. No matter how legitimate certain medicinal uses are, the "intent to help sick people" does not exist in a vacuum. We'll never have a system that gives sick people what they need without funding criminals unless we see one of two developments: a state-run manufacturing and distribution system -- which, again, is in direct violation of federal law -- or legal, taxed, regulated sale of recreational marijuana.

    I guess my point is that the ball is in the government's court, at both federal and state levels. It's fine to bemoan some of the abuses we're seeing in California, but it's simply proof that people respond to incentives. Without the correct legal framework, those problems will not be going away.

  5. Jay, your Headline says it all. And in truth the Medical Marijuana movement really is a means to an end, that being Ending Prohibition.
    Good Chiropractor's make the amount of money you showed that Doctor's are making on Medical MJ patients. While I don't appreciate that greed has come into this, by everyone involved, it's my belief that it will work its self out.

    Enjoy your comments Rhayader. The black market WILL continue until Prohibition is ended.

  6. I think there is value in the abuse of California Medical Marijuana laws. Although your points are entirely valid, the abuse of these laws has lead to de-facto legalization in Los Angeles and other California counties. This has given California, and to a lesser extent the rest of the country, a look at what a legalized marijuana distribution network would look like. Furthermore, the abuse and strain put on the law only serves to highlight the inadequacies of marijuana laws in general. Although this point, to us at least, is belabored beyond recognition, the more restrictive laws (and I consider medicalization restrictive in the abstract) are broken down, the more people will question marijuana laws in general.

  7. Rhayader said...
    “People like to smoke pot, pure and simple”

    I get that, but for now we need to separate recreational marijuana, from medical marijuana. There are people like me who need medical marijuana. The morphine I take helps with my low back pain, but not the shooting electrical pain in my legs and feet, marijuana does.

    If someone wants to spend $500.00 an ounce for recreational marijuana, that's fine, but this is medical marijuana, not recreational marijuana. I guess that’s the problem, most people don’t see marijuana as real medicine; they see it as a way for people to get marijuana.

    Matt said...
    “The abuse of these laws has lead to de-facto legalization in Los Angeles and other California counties”.

    I agree, and that’s why we need to separate recreational marijuana, from medical marijuana. If someone buys medical marijuana for a low price and sells it on the street, there should be consequences, the same as if someone sold morphine.

    The black market will continue after marijuana is legal, the same as it does with many legal drugs. I take morphine for pain, it’s legal, and yet the street price is as much as $20 a pill, as a patient I pay .20 cents a pill.

    Legalization and taxation would be the best outcome, but we will still have a black market, there will always be people willing to sell to kids. So the black market will never go away, only change.

    Rhayader said...
    “If we want to legitimize medical marijuana, we need to legitimize recreational marijuana”.

    Why would we need to legitimize recreational marijuana to legitimize medical marijuana? Many drugs are legitimate, without having to legitimize them for recreational use.

    I think this view is why many people don’t take medical marijuana seriously.

  8. You have a valid point: the markups for medical marijuana are outrageous.

    On the other hand, I think this occurs because this is not a truly legal market, and anyone who participates as a provider is both theoretically and actually subject to draconian penalties. What's the market price for risking years of imprisonment and seizure of all your assets? Unsurprisingly, it turns out that it's steep.


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