Some 37 states and the District of Columbia have moved to legalize marijuana for medical use in the last decade. But legal doesn’t mean affordable.
In addition to the cost of the marijuana itself, patients are required to have a state-issued medical marijuana card. First, they need to qualify for the card, then they have to pay for it.
Costs for the card vary from state to state. New Mexico issues its cards free of charge. Some states charge less than $50. And in several others, the cards cost between $50 and $100. But in three states – Minnesota, Arizona and Oregon – it costs at least $150.
“I would say affordability is the number one barrier to access,” said Debbie Churgai, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a Washington D.C.-based organization that advocates for safe and legal access to medical marijuana. “Even if the fee is as low as $25, at the end of the day patients are still paying for medicine that is really, really expensive.”
Also, the cards must be renewed and paid for annually. No other form of medicine requires patients to pay an annual fee before they can obtain it.
“There is a cost to administer a state medical cannabis program that has to be borne by someone,” said Maren Schroeder, policy director of Sensible Change Minnesota, a group dedicated to expanding access for medical marijuana patients in the state. “If it’s not a patient registration fee or a tax, it’s going to be an increased price of the product. Anyway you put it, the patients are going to pay for it.”
After qualifying for and then paying yearly for a card, the patient must still pay out of pocket for the cannabis products themselves.
A 2018 survey by Americans for Safe Access, found that more than 25 percent of the respondents go without treatment because they cannot afford medical marijuana in their states. The respondents’ average cost per month ranged from $50 to $1,500.
“People have been accessing marijuana through the illicit market well before medical programs existed,” Scott Smith, spokesman for the Minnesota Medical Cannabis program, said. “Until the products are covered by insurance or the industry is well developed, including removing federal barriers that exist for the industry, price will continue to be a problem for many individuals.”