The Economics of Medical Marijuana and Disability
In the past five years, I have had the incredible opportunity to travel the country and visit friends across the USA. Many of the friends I have visited, have been cannabis patients. Most of my friends are disabled, and/or caring for a disabled family member or dear friend.
I have witnessed many paradigms across the country, but for the purposes of this piece, I will limit my observations to the states where cannabis has been made legal for medical use.
Recently, a few more states have been added to the quazi-legal paradigm of “recreational cannabis” that I witnessed in Washington this past year and their attempt to implement it.
I had voted against I-502 for a number of reasons (for a full explanation, please read my blog piece, “This Woman and Her Vote“), but it passed regardless. The push for taxable marijuana was too big of a carrot to pass up for Washington State voters.
I also understand, and empathize with those people who need cannabis for medical purposes, but who can not afford the required doctor paperwork which is not covered by any insurance. This is largely due to the fact that the federal government has issued threats to licensed physicians that they will prohibit them from practicing if they do get themselves involved with medical cannabis.
In spite of this fact, the New England Journal of Medicine in May of 2013, reported that 76% of physicians agreed with medicinal cannabis use.
When “recreational marijuana” was legalized in Washington State, it took over 18 months to implement the legal state-taxed store sales. The law had created a grey market. It was legal to possess, but not buy or sell or cultivate. However, it was and still is, legal to cultivate up to 15 plants if you are a legal patient.
Thus spurned the grey market of Washington. Patients who could grow, who had the means and opportunity, found that they could pass on products to friends as long as they didn’t get caught.
With the popularity of BHO (Butane Hash Oil) exploding, patients also found themselves in a predicament where collective gardens would pay them money for the trim off of their plants. Trim that was in many instances, previously donated for the purpose of making FECO (full extract cannabis oil), one form of which is often referred to as RSO (Rick Simpson Oil).
It is THIS oil, this plant concentrate which has been credited by many ad hoc studies as well as personal testimonies, as having cured cancers.
I haven’t found any formal statistics in regards to the proportion of medical marijuana patients on disability income. From personal experience including my experience volunteering at a Collective Garden in Washington, I would venture an educated guess at 60-75% of all medical cannabis users (with a valid recommendation, or not) are on disability income from either Social Security, or a private source.
Let’s look at the numbers, JUST for Social Security. There are two programs. One serves the people who are too disabled to have supported themselves for any period of time by employment, that is called Supplemental Security Income (SSI). As of 2013, 4.92 MILLION US citizens were on this program, receiving an average payment per month of $550.
The second program is known as “Disabled Workers” or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). During the same time frame
8.96 million US citizens were drawing their Social Security through this program at an average payment of $1145/month.
When one averages the two classes of disabled Social Security recipients together, the average monthly income for 14 million people is less than $850 per month.
From personal experience and observation, as well as physician recommendation and referral, the average cannabis patient with life threatening or chronic conditions requires between 1 and 3 grams of dry, cured cannabis on a daily basis.
Prices for cannabis, per gram, can vary widely. The average up in Washington for medical is currently $10/gram. Washington is a state that also allows patients to grow up to 15 plants for their usage no matter their proximity to any organized & taxed grow or sales operation.
Arizona has a different paradigm. They enacted a “25-mile Rule” in regards to cultivating rights of patients. (A topic that will be covered in detail soon in a separate article). This means that if a patient lives within 25 miles (NOT driving distance, but as a “crow flies” which can be several hundred miles different) of a dispensary; they are not permitted to grow their own medication.
Arizona’s state-taxed dispensaries charge upwards of $20/gram of dry medication. Then they add city, county and state taxes to the price.
A quick price comparison of the most popular concentrate, BHO, finds that Washington averages $30-50/gram; while Arizona charges $60-80/gram.
The cost of arguably the most beneficial concentrate of cannabis, full extract oil, is also the most expensive. FECO, RSO,
Phoenix Tears, Raw Hash Oil are all names for a black-looking substance sold in capsules and syringes. It it dark green or dark amber depending on the method and solvent used. When an edible solvent (grain alcohol) is used, it is so green it looks black.
The costs associated in making FECO for ones self to cure cancer is astronomical without growing one’s own plants.
THE MATH BEHIND THE “CANNABIS CANCER CURE”
It takes APPROXIMATELY one pound, sometimes more, of raw bud material of the cannabis plant, to process 60 grams, known as a 90 day treatment to begin a cancer cure.
Patients who have metastasized, are recommended to keep taking one gram of FECO every day for the rest of their lives as a maintenance dose.
FECO is not just recommended for cancers. Many studies have recommended that FECO is the ideal treatment and possibly cure for many types of neurological disorders as
well as cancer. This raises the stakes when looking at the numbers of people with said conditions.
Back to the Math
If the average disabled patient makes less than $850/month, and uses only 1 gram of cannabis per day, in Washington state, purchased at a collective garden, that comes to $300/month medication cost. Leaving less than $550 to live on.
If that same person wants to heal themselves from cancer, and needs a 60 gram supply of FECO to do so, as well as dry medication to control symptoms like nausea which are not well controlled from the FECO, the numbers get CRAZY.
One pound of cannabis can not be purchased either in Arizona or Washington or any of the other medical states, legally.
One pound of cannabis can only be grown, then processed immediately. A pound of cannabis is approximately 453 grams.
If it were to be purchased, it would range from $4,530 in Washington prices or $9,000 in Arizona prices.
Then comes the price of the solvent and the physical ability to do the job of extracting it.
I do not personally know of any disabled patients who could afford to stay alive at these prices.
I don’t know what the future holds. I can hope and pray that our federal government will see it’s way to legalizing the safest medication that seems to grow on this earth.
I do know that the math doesn’t make sense. I constantly wonder why are we extorting our meekest of meek and our sickest of sick to make money?
I hope that soon relief can be found for all of those in search of it….at a reasonable cost or with the unlimited ability to cultivate this plant.