New Study Finds That Legal States Have Lower Rates of Cannabis-Impaired Driving
by Chane Leigh
Medical cannabis helps millions of patients across the U.S. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, more than 4.3 million Americans have medical cards. That’s almost 2% of eligible persons in states where medical cannabis is legal, as of December. However, access to medical cannabis is not the same across states. In a study of recent cannabis prices based on a crowd-sourced price index, an ounce of cannabis can be as much as $600 and as little as $200.
According to the price index, the District of Columbia is the most expensive by a significant margin, with the average price being $597.88. The next two highest states were North Dakota ($383.60), and Virginia ($364.89).
It’s of note that cannabis use and purchasing is quite restricted in these states with higher prices. In the District, it is illegal to purchase cannabis and they have no legal dispensaries, meaning the market is mostly underground despite its legal status. This could lead to higher prices. Since the price index is crowdsourced, it includes illicit prices, including Virginia where cannabis has no legal status.
According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennslyvania also tops the list of high-priced cannabis. An eighth of an ounce of cannabis sells for $58 in the Keystone state, compared to $35 in California and $40 in Maine.
“The patient community is always outraged about the prices,” Luke Shultz, a member of the state’s medical marijuana advisory board, told the Post-Gazette. “I’m not sure where the price should be. But we’d sure like to see it lower.”
According to the Post-Gazette, the high prices may be attributed to draconian regulations imposed by state legislators and an advisory committee that is limited in what they can do to keep prices lower.
According to Statista, the following are the average prices of an ounce of high-quality cannabis as of October 2020. The U.S. average price was $319.04.
It’s interesting to note that those states with the lowest price per ounce are ones that have embraced medical cannabis, if not recreation cannabis, entirely. California was the first state to legalize medical cannabis all the way back in 1996 (Arizona also legalized medical cannabis this year, but it was rendered ineffective due to a technicality in the ballot measure.) Next came Oregon, Alaska and Washington in 1998.
While these states had hard roads to legal distribution, their early entrance into legal cannabis may have allowed them to put systems in place to keep prices low. Additionally, as Colorado, Washington and Oregon have legalized recreational cannabis, there are incentives for allowing medical patients to have easier access to their prescriptions.
In states and territories where medical cannabis is legal and expensive, little is being done to limit the high costs of cannabis. But could they be doing more?
According to the Post-Gazette, Pennslyvania’s medical-marijuana law permits the agency to cap prices and set up a fund to help defray costs for the poor. But such steps may not be taken for years, if at all. Agency staff said the law blocks it from tackling prices until it has first adopted final regulations and paid back the state $3 million in seed money. And officials say it won’t meet those conditions until late 2022, at the earliest. Additionally, $20 million in revenue generated by cannabis sales—which should have gone toward that seed money debt—was recently sent to the state’s general fund to help with the coronavirus pandemic efforts.
One reason why Pennsylvania may have higher prices is the requirement that cannabis be grown indoors. In Maine, where an eighth of an ounce only costs $40, and in Western states like Arizona and California, growers can produce outside, requiring less overhead like hydroponic systems and lights, not to mention extreme utility costs.
As more states legalize recreational cannabis, it may be tempting to treat your condition without jumping through bureaucratic hoops. But there are still benefits to getting a medical card versus buying recreationally. The biggest when it comes to cost is the tax differences. Many states wooed voters into approving recreation cannabis due to the tax revenue it would produce. And in every legal state, the marijuana tax for medical patients is far lower than the tax rate for recreational consumers. In some cases, the difference is as high as 10% to 30%, leading to an incentive to treat your medical condition through the appropriate channels.
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