The number of patients on Colorado’s medical marijuana registry rose ever so slightly in the first month of recreational store sales, according to new figures from state health officials.
As of Jan. 31, a total of 111,030 people held active red cards allowing them to buy medical marijuana, 51 more than a month earlier.
The true impact of the arrival of recreational stores on the state’s medical marijuana registry, however, will not be felt until later this year as the market evolves and more patients decide whether to renew.
“People are just holding back in making their decisions,” said Meg Collins, executive director of the Cannabis Business Alliance, an industry group representing medical and recreational marijuana companies. “There are legitimate reasons for people to stay on the registry as patients, and people are waiting to see how this sorts out.”
Obtaining a red card requires getting a recommendation from a doctor, and patients must join the registry to shop at a dispensary. That sharing of personal information makes some uncomfortable.
There are benefits to being a patient, too, including lower prices and avoiding the extra sales and excise taxes of recreational pot.
Because recreational sales are restricted to those 21 and over, medical dispensaries remain an option for those ages 18 to 21.
Collins said some dispensary owners are reporting an increase in patients since recreational stores opened Jan. 1 because of the lower prices and taxes.
Despite speculation that the registry would take a hit after Amendment 64’s passage opened the door to recreational sales, the number of registered patients has increased 2 percent over the past year, according to data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which maintains the registry.
Declines from patients dropping off or failing to renew have been offset by new patient applications.
Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project and a co-author of Amendment 64, cautioned against reading anything into the January registry numbers. He said few people knew how the recreational rollout would play out, not all recreational stores were ready to open Jan. 1 and stores continue to open.
“I don’t think there is any data available right now that could accurately demonstrate the direction in which things are going to happen,” he said.
Eric Gorski: 303-954-1971, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/egorski