PHOENIX — Arizona’s more than 43,000 medical marijuana patients smoked, ate or otherwise consumed close to 3 tons of the weed last year.
At least as far as we know. State Health Director Will Humble said Thursday that the figure reflects how much was sold by the state’s 71 dispensaries. But Humble pointed out most legal marijuana shops didn’t open their doors until later in 2013. Before that, thousands of patients not near a dispensary could grow their own without state oversight.
Now, with dispensaries in most of the state’s populated areas, Humble said that self-growing will go down — and formal purchases will go up. And that, he said, could boost the on-the-record sales for 2014 to as high as 10 tons.
The health director also said an analysis of dispensary records shows most sales came on Friday, followed closely by Saturday.
Humble would not speculate about that pattern, but he said that overall, it’s impossible to create a program in which only those who need the drug can get it.
“I think we have a hybrid program, to be honest with you,” he said.
“There’s obviously recreational patients within the system,” Humble continued. “And there always will be. My main goal is to keep it as medical as possible and to minimize the community problems that can result from a recreational program.”
The 2010 voter-approved law allows those with a doctor’s recommendation to get a state-issued card allowing them obtain up to 2½ ounces of the drug every two weeks.
Qualifying conditions under the law range from cancer and seizures to glaucoma, AIDS and nausea.
The law also permits those not within 25 miles of a dispensary to grow their own medication, which, until dispensaries started opening in late 2012, covered everyone with a medical marijuana card.
The newly released report also shows some that the average patient made 10 purchases a year.
But Humble said one person actually made 314 trips to a dispensary, given the limit of 2½ ounces every two weeks.
The largest number of transactions was by those in the 18- to 30-year-old group. But Humble said the average size of their purchases was smaller than those of older groups.
“It could be that the younger patients are more price-sensitive, so they end up having to make more transactions,” he said. “It could be that the younger patients have less serious chronic medical conditions and therefore don’t need as much to treat their pain.”
Humble also said that just five of the state’s dispensaries accounted for 40 percent of the total marijuana sold — 154,187 transactions totaling about 2,400 pounds. But he said state law precludes him from identifying the dispensaries or even in what communities they are located.
Not surprisingly, the state’s largest county had the largest number of medical-marijuana users.
But the data from the Department of Health Services show that, on a per-capita basis, Yavapai County has more users than anywhere else, followed by Gila and Coconino counties.
At the other extreme, Yuma County had the lowest per-capita rate of medical marijuana patients.
The health director said he is looking at making some changes in state regulations to tighten up the program, such as rules for delivering marijuana to qualifying patients.
Humble also is waiting for a court ruling on how far dispensaries can go in making food and drink products out of marijuana.
The voter-approved law clearly allows for such items. But Humble said he reads the law to permit only products that contain actual pieces of the plant, such as grinding up leaves and flowers and baking them into brownies. Some dispensaries are creating a chemical “extract” and putting that into their food products, without any actual pieces, which Humble believes is illegal.