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Medical Marijuana Patient Numbers Show Slight Increase in February 2015

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Colorado saw a slight increase in medical marijuana patients from January to February, but thousands of patients have still dropped off the registry — and the number who sign up with private caregivers continues to shrink.

Medical marijuana patient numbers rose from 113,453 patients in January to 114,290 in February. Included in that figure are eleven more minors added to the registry, bringing the total number of kids under the age of eighteen to 471. Despite the small increase, the total number of patients in February is still well below the 115,467 active red cards that the state had reported in December 2014. Between January and February, the state saw more than 2,890 new patient applications, but active card numbers only grew by 837 people in that time frame. That would suggest that more than 2,000 people opted out of the state’s medical cannabis system in just one month, either by dropping off the registry or not renewing their cards.

The state also saw continued reduction in the number of patients who have signed up a caregiver or dispensary to grow their cannabis. In February 2014, 57 percent of all MMJ patients had a caregiver or primary dispensary. One year later, it was just 40 percent, or a total of 45,716 patients. While the state data doesn’t break down the stats on private caregivers and primary dispensaries any further, in November, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment officials told us that patients with private caregivers only accounted for about 4 percent of the total caregiver/primary-center numbers.

The CDPHE worked last year to limit the number of patients a private caregiver can handle, arguing that caregivers who handle more than five patients at a time are operating on industrial levels and should be taxed accordingly. While department officials claim they’re doing this to crack down on cannabis making its way out of the state, caregivers argue that they are providing a service to patients who can’t afford dispensary prices for medicine.

One of the largest caregiver advocates is Jason Cranford, a caregiver for about ninety patients – most of whom are children who need high-CBD cannabis to treat seizure disorders. Cranford is concerned that the state crackdown will mean more suffering for both his young patients and their families. State senator Irene Aguilar, a Denver Democrat who is also a physician, has sponsored SB 15-014, which would limit caregivers to five patients and force them to register their grows with the state; the bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee, where it has been since late February.

Other registry statistics remained largely unchanged. The average age of patients is 42, with women making up more than a third of the total. The majority of all medical patients (56 percent) live in the metro Denver area. Severe pain is the reason for 93 percent of all recommendations, with muscle spasms coming in second at 16 percent. Aguilar’s bill would also require doctors to provide more information to the state on patients who report severe pain, in order to “stop inappropriate access to medical marijuana.”

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