Applications for medical marijuana cards have spiked in Massachusetts with the closure of the state’s adult-use cannabis dispensaries that was ordered to slow the spread of the deadly COVID-19 coronavirus. The increase in patient registrations comes after regulations that govern the medicinal cannabis program were relaxed in response to the outbreak.
When Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker ordered the closure of nonessential businesses in the state and issued a stay-at-home directive to residents last month, he said that medical marijuana dispensaries would be “treated for all intents and purposes the same way we treat healthcare operations” and allowed to remain open.
But that decision didn’t apply to the state’s recreational cannabis dispensaries, which were ordered to close along with other nonessential businesses on March 24 to help contain the spread of the virus. Baker cited the influx of traffic from neighboring states that do not have legal adult-use marijuana as the reason for the distinction. Cannabis dispensaries that sell both medical and recreational marijuana were directed to only serve registered patients.
To support social distancing measures, the Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission (CCC) has modified some of the requirements to be certified as a medical marijuana patient, including allowing physicians to consult with applicants via telemedicine appointments. Since that time, the agency has seen a steep uptick in the number of people applying to be a medical marijuana patient.
“We’ve issued more than 30 waivers to clinicians to issue those initial certifications via telehealth,” Shawn Collins, the executive director of the CCC, said on Friday. “In the intervening time, from March 23 through April 1, we’ve received more than 1,300 new patient registrations. In the 10 days prior, we received 500 patient registrations. So that’s a significant jump in patient registration.”
Regulators Not Surprised By Spike In Applications
Steven Hoffman, the chairman of the CCC, told reporters on Friday that he wasn’t surprised by the increase in applications.
“There’s always been a belief that people were—some people and I don’t know the percentages—but some people were using the adult-use market to satisfy their medical needs,” he said. “And I think since the adult-use market is temporarily shut down, I think those people are applying for medical licenses.”
Hoffman acknowledged that unlicensed cannabis operators are also likely to see an increase in demand with the shutdown of legal recreational sales, which began in Massachusetts in November 2018.
“It’s always been impossible to really quantify what’s going on in the illicit market and what impact legalization is having, he said. “But of course I’m concerned that people that will not be able to go to an adult-use store for the period of time that they remain closed will use the illicit market. That’s something I’m very concerned about.”
The CCC met on Friday to discuss how regulators could support cannabis businesses as they struggle to survive during the mandatory closures. But Hoffman said that it is impossible to predict what lasting impact the coronavirus outbreak will have on the cannabis industry.
“I’m not going to forecast what might happen in the industry other than I am concerned,” he said. “You know, there are a wide variety of companies in this industry—some big, many small—the bigger ones have more resources, obviously, to weather a storm like this than the smaller ones, so I’m very concerned. But I can’t offer a forecast because I don’t know what the future holds for any of us, not just our industry.”