Medical Marijuana Still Has Plenty of Room to Grow
The use of medical marijuana is legal today in 33 states across the nation. Yet, despite already being legal in most states, the medical cannabis industry still has way more room to grow than most people have considered.
That's because in many states with legal marijuana, overly tedious rules and regulations are drastically throttling the industry. It's being held back.
For investors, this means even in many states where medical cannabis is already legal, the industry is still not operating at maximum capacity. And there's still a lot of money to be made there.
Over the past two months, I've been trying to obtain a medical marijuana card from Maryland, and here's what I’ve learned...
About 15 years ago, my sciatic nerve was pinched after a swimming accident. And if that's something you've ever experienced yourself, you know how much excruciating pain a pinched sciatic nerve can cause. I couldn't walk and could barely even move without putting myself in extreme agony. So, I did what most people would do: I went to the doctor.
After a bunch of examination and X-rays, my doctor gave me four choices to deal with the pain:
- Get back surgery.
- Go to physical therapy.
- Take painkillers(opiates).
- Live with the pain.
None of these options were ideal, and getting back surgery was out of the question. Most people I've known who had back surgery to deal with a pinched sciatic nerve said the operation didn't work or it made the pain even worse. And besides, my doctor said surgery should be my very last option anyway.
Physical therapy was also an option for the long term, but it did nothing for the immediate pain and there was no guarantee it would even help after weeks of treatment.
And, of course, I didn't want to just live with the pain. Who does? So I chose option three: I took the drugs.
My doctor prescribed Oxycontin, and it was...
Well, I know you're not supposed to say this, but Oxycontin is f*cking awesome! Taking those pills not only eliminated the pain, but it also made me feel like a million bucks. I swear I don't think I've ever felt so good in my life. It was like being in love for the first time while slowly sinking into an ocean of soft, warm caramel.
But it didn't last long.
Three weeks later, I started to notice my mind was being invaded with a single, repeating thought: When is the next time I get to take another Oxycontin? And I knew what that meant... It meant I was becoming addicted.
Fortunately for me, I grew up in Baltimore, which means I grew up around opiates and heroin and had already seen way too many people throw their lives away on drugs. So, I knew I had to stop. And I did.
I truly believe this was a crossroads in my life. Had I continued taking the Oxycontin, I could have easily ended up as a junkie or worse.
So after all that, I was stuck with option four: live with the pain.
Eventually, I did end up going to physical therapy multiple times, but it never helped with the pain. I tried acupuncture, deep massages, expensive mattresses and pillows, and every cream and patch at CVS. You name it, I've tried it. None of it worked for me.
There is, however, one substance I've found that helps me the best: cannabis.
Now, I'm not a doctor, and I couldn't tell you how cannabis works to relieve pain. However, I have read that some cannabis strains are bred to deal with inflammation and that they can help with back pain — but those are very specific strains only found today at medical dispensaries. The marijuana I've been using for the past 15 years comes off the street, not from a dispensary.
In other words, it's not specific strains of cannabis that have helped with my back pain. Instead, it has been any strain of cannabis.
How does that work?
I really have no clue. My best guess is that cannabis works to ease my back pain sort of as an anxiolytic.
So what's an anxiolytic?
An anxiolytic is a medication or other intervention, that inhibits anxiety. It works to reduce pain by reducing the anxiety of pain.
The most commonly known anxiolytic is the one at your dentist's office: nitrous oxide, a.k.a. laughing gas. Nitrous oxide does not directly reduce pain but rather eases your anxiety about pain and makes you care less about it.
Physical pain is nothing more than a message sent from the brain. If you can convince your brain there's no reason to send the pain message, it won't. Similarly, I believe marijuana helps with my back pain. It doesn't necessarily eliminate the pain, but it makes me care less about the pain so I experience it less.
For the past 15 years, I've been using cannabis (illegally) to deal with chronic back pain. And everything was going fine... until the coronavirus hit.
About a month into the lockdown, I ran out of cannabis. And due to the heightened fear, I couldn't find anyone to sell me any. Dealers didn't want you coming to their house and they didn't want to come to yours.
So, I did what I had to do. I began the legal process of obtaining a medical marijuana card from Maryland.
Why didn't I choose to get a medical marijuana card long before COVID-19?
Well, firstly, Maryland's medical marijuana program didn't become operational until December 2017. So, up until then, it was impossible.
But even after Maryland's cannabis program became operational, there were reasons not to sign up. Up until last year, a person in Maryland could be denied the right to purchase a firearm on the sole basis that they have an authorization for medical cannabis. So the government gave you a choice: You can either have medicine, or firearms to protect yourself. However, in 2019, Maryland's State Senate changed those rules.
But to answer the question of why I waited so long: It wasn't legal until two years ago, and even, then you'd be forced to give up a Constitutional right.
Besides, I didn't need Maryland's blessing. I knew plenty of people who sold cannabis, and if I got desperate, I could always just zip on down to D.C. and buy it there. But, of course, that was until the coronavirus, and as far as I'm aware, Washington D.C.'s head shops are still closed.
So about two months ago, I began the process of obtaining a medical marijuana card. And from what I've found, the state has done everything possible to prevent people from getting medical cannabis cards. They make it as difficult as possible.
First, it's expensive. Getting a marijuana card in Maryland costs you a minimum of $250, and that doesn't even include the cost of seeing your regular doctor. All in, I figure it will cost me about $800 with regular doctor visits. And then you need to renew your card every year, which costs a couple hundred bucks.
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Do you know how much a street dealer charges you to buy cannabis from him? $0.
Moreover, the cannabis at the dispensaries is very expensive relative to street prices. So, if you're looking to save money, buying from the street is the way to go.
But the costs are really only minor compared to the hoops you've got to jump through to get a card. As I mentioned, I started the process to get a medical marijuana card two months ago, and I still haven't received it yet. And I think it's going to take at least another month.
The fact is the state does not make registering easy. For example, registering with the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission (MMCC) requires a photo of your driver's license or government ID. But have you ever tried to take a photo of your driver's license? It has reflective material on it to stop people from making copies, so they ask you to do something they've purposely made difficult.
Then they ask for a recent photo of yourself. But, of course, this must be a very specific photo. They want a “passport-style” photo, which has specific size and framing requirements. The State Department says, “The correct size of a passport photo is: 2 x 2 inches (51 x 51 mm) Head must be between 1 -1 3/8 inches (25 - 35 mm) from the bottom of the chin to the top of the head.” In short, this is very easy to mess up.
Just to register with the MMCC can take anywhere from five to 45 days. How do you like that time window? Imagine if the cable company told you they'd send someone out to fix your cable in five to 45 days. And that's just the first step of the process.
Being in the middle of it right now, I think it's clear Maryland's cannabis program is a system that has been created to be difficult. Its difficulty is purposeful.
And that's a real failure if you ask me. Let's compare the costs and time commitments between legally obtaining cannabis versus an opiate like Oxycontin in Maryland.
|Getting a Cannabis License in Maryland||Getting Oxycontin From a Doctor|
All-in estimate for me: $800 (including prior doctor visits).
All-in estimate for me: $30.
|Time Commitment||Time Commitment|
All-in estimate for me: 48 hours total time invested over several months.
All-in estimate for me: Two hours.
So, I figure legally obtaining a medical cannabis card is some 20 times to 30 times more expensive and time-consuming in my state than getting Oxycontin.
Am I the only one who sees a massive failure here?
I could make an appointment right now and have Oxycontin in under a week. But to be able to legally purchase a joint to ease my back pain, I have to jump through months of the state's hoops.
And this is not just Maryland. Several states with similar cannabis laws also run their programs this way. It seems that politicians wanted to appease the demand for medical cannabis but really didn't want people using it. It's like telling your kids they're allowed to go to Disneyland and then springing the catch on them they have to walk there.
My point is this: The medical marijuana industry still has much more room to grow than most people have considered. Even in states such as Maryland, which have passed medical cannabis laws, the system that's currently in place is (ostensibly) purposefully throttled.
But that can't last forever.
The overwhelming majority of Americans support legalizing medical cannabis. And once people begin to learn how the overly tedious rules and regulations are limiting access, the people will demand change.
Right now, 11 U.S. states don't require a doctor's recommendation for cannabis use. In these states, it has essentially become an OTC substance, and that's where the rest of the country needs to be for the medical cannabis industry to be operating at maximum capacity. And I believe that one day it will.
So even though the hype around medical marijuana is all but gone, there's still plenty of money to be made in the still-growing industry.
Until next time,
As an editor at Energy and Capital, Luke’s analysis and market research reach hundreds of thousands of investors every day. Luke is also a contributing editor of Angel Publishing’s Bull and Bust Report newsletter. There, he helps investors in leveraging the future supply-demand imbalance that he believes could be key to a cyclical upswing in the hard asset markets. For more on Luke, go to his editor’s page.
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