Justice

The High Cost of Being a Medical Marijuana Patient

Every year, Robin Crawley has to shell out $150 to renew her certification to remain a legal medical marijuana patient in Maine. That's on top of the roughly $400 she spends on the medicine itself each month to treat her post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and chronic pain.

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The 60-year-old told ATTN: she works two jobs and lives paycheck-to-paycheck and knows of other patients in similar financial situations. It's not at all uncommon to hear people complain about the high fees that come with being a registered medical marijuana user in a legal state.

The renewal fees vary from state to state. In California, you typically pay about $60 if you're a first-time patient and around $45 for an annual renewal. That's on the lower end of the pricing spectrum, though. In Oregon, patients have to pay a $200 application fee each year.

In some states, like Arizona and Oregon, there are discounts available for people who qualify for food stamps. Even so, the theme across medical marijuana systems is that wealthy patients have the advantage — and fees for applications and renewals can be prohibitively expensive for low-income patients.

Back when he was living in Arizona, journalist Troy Farah said he was spending about $300 annually to keep his medical marijuana card up-to-date, despite the fact that he has a chronic condition.

"Last August, I finally gave up and just went back to getting weed from the street," Farah told ATTN:. "It sucked because instead of going to a store, I had to wait around for drug dealers or my friends to be available, they didn't know the THC:CBD ratio or often even the strain name (not that they ever mean much anyway) but at least the cost was about the same."

Is there any way around this economic barrier in the legal weed industry?

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In states where marijuana is legal for recreational use, adults over the age of 21 are able to walk into a dispensary and buy weed without first paying a certification fee. At the same time, the taxes for recreational weed are generally higher than taxes for medical marijuana, which could ultimately with savings for the patient.

Some legalization advocates have argued that medical marijuana should be covered by health insurance companies like any other prescription drug. But considering that marijuana remains illegal under federal law, insurers aren't likely to adopt progressive coverage policies for patients in legal states, Daniel Shortt, an attorney who specializes in cannabis law at the firm Harris Bricken, told ATTN:.

"Advocates are concerned because [these fees are] making access to medicine contingent on wealth, and obviously there are concerns there," Shortt said. "At the end of the day, if a medical cannabis patient can’t afford to grow their own, then they’re forced to either buy it from someone else or receive it as a gift or donation."