Medical marijuana: Active red cards continue to decrease

The Colorado Medical Marijuana Registry saw a decrease of more than 1,000 active red cards at the end of May - marking the second straight month of such declines, despite nearly 6,000 new patient applications over that time period. As of May 31, there were 105,886 active medical marijuana patients in the state, down 1,276 from the month before. Over the same period, the total number of new patient applications received to date by the CDPHE increased by 3,172 to 220,637. It's been the same story since November, when Amendment 64 passed: While the number of applications is high, the number of people either not renewing or dropping off the registry has far surpassed any growth in new patients.

As we've pointed out before, activists and state officials predicted a decline in patient numbers after Amendment 64 passed and patients no longer had to pay money to the state and register with the health department in order to cultivate cannabis on their own. And if recreational cannabis shops ever open up, many people have said they'll drop their red cards since they'll no longer be needed to purchase cannabis if you're an adult 21 and over. Still, in the eight months since the November election, the registry has only dropped by about 1,000 active cardholders.

But a sub-par audit of the CDPHE medical marijuana registry program released earlier this week may help hasten the decline. Among the more troubling parts of the audit was information showing that the CDPHE has had fifteen confidentiality breaches of the "confidential" registry over the last four years. Most were to CDPHE employees who didn't have permission to see the data, and the rest were cards mailed to incorrect addresses. But with simple mistakes like that occurring, patients may find it hard to trust the department to keep their information confidential.

Add to those blunders the fact that the CDPHE has reportedly finished its computer linkup with state law-enforcement computers. Though state law makes it clear that police can only access registry information when presented with a state-issued red card (and even then only a confirmation or denial that a person has a red card) there's seemingly plenty of wiggle room for abuse in a system that was built to show how many plants a person is allowed to grow and how many ounces they are allowed to possesse. Even the auditors questioned the legality of that in their report.

Other statistics on the registry remained about the same, though there were slight increases in the average age of patients (up a year to 42), the number of minors (up to 41 from 35 in April) and the percentage of patients living in the metro area (up to 59 percent from 58 the month before). The majority of patients (57 percent) designate a medical dispensary or private caregiver to grow herb for them, with most opting for the dispensary route over a private caregiver, according to CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley.

The number of physicians who have patients with active medical marijuana recommendations also stayed the same: about 800 doctors. However, the state audit also revealed that about a dozen doctors are responsible for almost half of all patients on the registry. Some doctors have signed off on as many as 8,427 people -- thousands more patients than even the busiest physicians see every year. From our Marijuana archives: "Marijuana trimming isn't just an illegal trade anymore."

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William Breathes
Contact: William Breathes