Patients and medical marijuana sales on the decline in Colorado

Patients and medical marijuana sales on the decline in Colorado

Cannabis as medicine is where the entire marijuana industry began 15 years ago, but state data shows the end of the distinction between medical and recreational products may be in sight.

Even after recreational sales began in 2014, the number of medical marijuana customers remained fairly stable, but is now in the midst of a sustained decline. The number of registered medical marijuana patients, tracked by the state health department, has fallen 28 percent since September 2021, from 89,978 patients to 65,101 in May 2024.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana sales hit their lowest levels in at least 10 years, totaling just $15 million in April, down 63 percent from April 2021, according to the state Department of Revenue.

Mason Tvert, a spokesman for Colorado Leads, a marijuana industry group, said it’s a natural evolution of the cannabis market. Recreational cannabis stores are ubiquitous and the product is often competitively priced.

“As cannabis has become more accessible and available to adults looking to use it for a medical or non-medical purpose, they are less likely to go through the process of seeking what is essentially a permit from the state of Colorado,” Tvert said.

Medical users must first obtain a “provider certification,” complete an application and then pay $29.50 to the state, although those fees can be waived in certain circumstances.

Many Colorado dispensaries have opted to go recreational only, with some owners saying they never felt comfortable recommending medicinal strains to people with certain ailments. Some complained about burdensome regulations around medicinal strains and having to keep track of plant counts and patients. While many others simply didn’t have enough medicinal customers anymore for that part of the business to be sustainable.

Tvert said that doesn’t mean the drug will disappear entirely. Many patients may have a strong relationship with a doctor, and it’s a relatively easy and inexpensive process to renew your state registration. He predicts pharmaceutical companies will develop new products from cannabis, especially once the federal government reclassifies it.

Many patients will remain in the medical market due to cost. Medical sales taxes are a small fraction of many additional taxes that apply to the purchase of recreational marijuana.

“If you look at medical patients who have to take it consistently and daily, they are much more likely to go through that process,” Tvert said. “Because they consume much more of the product and therefore save much more money.”