A surge of new patients have sought access to Massachusetts’ medical marijuana market during the state’s lockdown, according to recent figures obtained by the Boston Globe.
The spike comes after the state’s adult-use cannabis stores were deemed non-essential by the governor and shut down in March.
David Torrisi, president of the Commonwealth Dispensary Association, told the Globe that he’s “always believed that more than a majority of [recreational] customers are using cannabis for medical needs such as anxiety, pain relief, and sleep disorders,” and that those patients are now seeking access to the state’s official treatment program.
The closure pushed many cannabis users who qualify for a medical card to register as patients, allowing them access to the state’s 59 Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers, which are the only cannabis businesses still operating. According to the Boston Globe, more than 7,000 residents have registered with the state program since the end of recreational sales.
The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission has also temporarily authorized curbside-pickup at medical dispensaries, and doctors who prescribe medical marijuana are now allowed to certify new patients remotely, in line with a statewide push to increase access to telehealth services.
The recent changes have streamlined the patient registration process and earned praise from the Massachusetts Patient Advocacy Alliance, whose president told the Globe that she hopes the Cannabis Control Commission will keep these measures in place after the crisis is over.
Still, some Massachusetts cannabis users argue that while they need the drug for medical reasons, they need to stay out of the state’s database of registered patients. Stephen Mandile, an Army veteran and local politician from Uxbridge, told reporters that he fears losing his federal benefits if his name shows up on a list of marijuana patients.
Mandile signed onto an April lawsuit alongside recreational store owners who took exception to marijuana’s non-essential status, but their case was quashed in April — so Governor Charlie Bakers’ order, which took effect March 23rd, is likely to keep dispensaries closed until the COVID-19 lockdown is over.
Meanwhile, the recreational industry is facing steep losses in the tens of millions or higher, judging by recreational sales figures from the Cannabis Control Commission, which show that dispensaries had already raked in a total of 157 million dollars between January 1st and the COVID-closure.
The closure has resulted in layoffs at some dispensaries, and abrupt anti-climaxes for businesses that just opened — including Boston’s first dispensary, Pure Oasis, which was open for just two weeks before the shutdown.
Pure Oasis was also the first dispensary licensed under the state’s economic empowerment program, which aims to encourage industry participation from communities that have disproportionately harmed by marijuana prohibition, and whose outlook is dubious until adult-use sales resume.
Dr. Marion McNabb of the Cannabis Community Care and Research Network wrote in a blog post last week that “Bakers halt on adult-use is reversing the gains made for cannabis social and restorative justice in Massachusetts.”
Many of the state’s medical dispensaries, McNabb wrote, “are not in the neighborhoods identified as disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs,” and so are not helping the “low-income communities in Massachusetts who have worked hard to have equal access.”