Marijuana: Why Is the State Trying So Hard to Shut Down Private Caregivers?

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Medical marijuana patient numbers in Colorado have flattened out over the past few months, settling at around 116,000 people despite the submission of more than 2,700 new-patient applications during the past few months. In September, there were 115,710 patients on the registry; in October, the number was 117,239 -- but enrollment for November was back at 116,216.

Also clear from the stats are the small number of people who use private caregivers -- a big focus of the state's enforcement efforts.

See also: Cannabis Calendar for the Week of January 12: Business Conference Kicks Off Friday

The high-water mark came in June 2011, when the registry had 128,698 patients. But new rules and regulations that went into effect the following month resulted in the number of patients dropping to just 88,872 by that October. The total has been slowly climbing back since then.

Newly released statistics from the state also show that the number of medical patients who designate either a private caregiver or a medical marijuana dispensary as their primary grower has dropped as well -- from 46 percent in October to just 44 percent in November, a decline of nearly 2,800 people. Since there's no further breakdown in the figures, it's hard to tell if the drop is due to patients increasingly growing their own and avoiding signing on with a dispensary, or if the recent crackdown on state-legal caregivers by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has caused caregivers and patients to shy away from registering.

We asked the CDPHE to break down those numbers further for us, and they show that about 40 percent of patients (46,928) have signed up a center as their primary grower while only 3.9 percent (4,642) signed up with a private caregiver. The remaining 64,646 patients did not sign anyone up as a caregiver (though they are still able to legally grow for themselves, as well as purchase cannabis from a medical marijuana dispensary).

The numbers also show that the state health department has devoted a disproportionately large amount of time trying to shut down private caregivers in the state. After all, they only serve a statistically tiny percentage of people on the registry -- not to mention the fact that any Colorado resident 21 and up can grow for themselves at this point.

Two significant areas did see growth from October to November: The number of women on the registry increased by about 800 -- raising the total percentage of women on the registry to more than 36 percent -- and the number of minors also grew, from 444 kids under eighteen in October to 455 as of the end of November.

Medical marijuana purchases in November declined along with the patient population. According to sales figures extrapolated from state tax data, there was $26,636,965 worth of medical pot sold in Colorado in November, down $5.37 million from October's medical sales. Recreational sales were also down from October to November, but the gulf wasn't nearly as wide, with only a $371,966 difference between the two months.

In November, the state received $772,472 in medical marijuana taxes and $5.174 million in recreational taxes, including about $1.36 million in excise taxes on sales from grows to dispensaries that go directly to a state school construction fund. In total last year, $8,360,430 in excise taxes went to the construction fund (wholesale distributors only began operations in October). While sales were down across the board in November, the state stayed busy with licensing, and the collected fees for recreational dispensary applications more than doubled, from $372,222 in October to $816,900 in November.

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