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Could Medical Marijuana Eventually Outpace Recreational Pot?

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As a writer who has been covering state-legal marijuana for many years, I get the impression that pro-marijuana advocates use the medical cannabis angle to get a foot in the door as they try to convince state lawmakers to legalize their drug of choice. Once medical cannabis is allowed, the next step is to pursue legalizing recreational pot.

I have accepted this premise because I’ve seen it repeated time and again. But now, there is a new question looming in the back of my mind: could medical marijuana eventually outpace recreational pot in terms of both sales and consumption? At least one industry CEO seems to think so.

Medical Marijuana Has Momentum

As I look out across the entire marijuana landscape, I see that the medical side has some momentum behind it. In fact, it has a lot of momentum. So many states giving the green light to medical cannabis has led to millions of patients obtaining medical cannabis cards.

Adding to the momentum is a growing distrust of traditional Western medicine that sometimes does more harm than good. Just ask any of the medical marijuana patients who obtained their cards because they are tired of taking prescription opioids for pain. Marijuana is an alternative to them.

FloraWorks CEO Alleh Lindquist discussed the future of medical marijuana at a recent Benzinga Cannabis Capital Conference for investors. Lindquist predicts that the medical side of the marijuana industry will ultimately be larger than recreational side. In addition to the current momentum, he cites the probable rescheduling of marijuana to lead to more research studies and grants in the near future.

Medical Cannabis Is Thriving

There is little doubt that medical cannabis is a thriving industry across the U.S. Even in states that have not yet approved recreational marijuana, the medical side is doing very well. Take Utah. As one of the more conservative states, Utah also has one of the more restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country.

Utah lawmakers have only approved 15 medical marijuana pharmacies to serve a population of just over 3 million. Beehive Farmacy is one of these pharmacies, operating locations in Salt Lake City and Brigham City. Despite restrictions, Beehive Farmacy personnel say there are in excess of 70,000 active cardholders in Utah.

Medical marijuana in Utah is worth millions annually. Even though there isn’t a recreational market, the main players in the Beehive State’s industry are doing very well. And although a black market undoubtedly exists in the state, it is not nearly as active as the black markets in California, New York, and other states with legalized recreational pot.

Once the Novelty Wears Off

One could probably make the case that the spike in recreational pot sales observed whenever a state green lights recreational use is partly attributed to the novelty factor. Once the novelty wears off, recreational sales tend to decline and then stabilize. Things are different on the medical side.

People who use marijuana for legitimate medical reasons are likely to continue using it as long as it works. There is little to no novelty factor for them. Take the person who chooses medical marijuana over opioid painkillers. That person’s chronic pain condition persists, which is why he opts for medical marijuana to begin with. He is likely to continue using indefinitely.

It remains to be seen whether medical marijuana surpasses recreational pot. But the signs are pointing in that direction. Perhaps a decade from now all of the hype about recreational marijuana will be just a memory. Meanwhile, medical marijuana will be as mainstream as penicillin.

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