Gila County continues to lead the state in medical marijuana cardholders and those authorized to grow, according to recently released data from the Arizona Department of Health Services.
On a per-capita basis, Gila County has the second highest number of cardholders and more growers than any other county.
Gila County’s nearly 700 medical marijuana patients were among the state’s 45,000 who bought three tons of the plant from dispensaries last year, mostly to treat chronic pain.
Payson’s Uncle Herbs was among the 71 licensed dispensaries, opening its doors in August as one of the few with a garden, kitchen and dispensary floor under one roof.
Learn more about how the dispensary is doing and what new products it plans to launch in an upcoming article.
Before Uncle Herbs opened, patients here could grow their own supply and several cardholders got in trouble with police when they violated growing restrictions.
Most infractions involved plants growing outside in plain sight with little security. One garden was going so well, marijuana leaves hung over a grower’s wall and into a Payson ally, according to police.
With most dispensaries now open, cardholders living within 25 miles of a dispensary can no longer grow once their card comes up for renewal.
State Health Director Will Humble told the Arizona Daily Star he expects that with fewer people growing, on-the-record sales at dispensaries will reach 10 tons in 2014.
Last year’s sales resulted in close to $33 million in revenue, with the average dispensary selling weed at $350 an ounce.
If Humble’s prediction holds true, revenues could hit $123 million this year. The state collects sales tax on dispensary sales.
Year-end statistics indicate the majority of cardholders are younger males, between 18-30 years old. Only 30 percent of cardholders are female.
Under the 2010 voter-approved mandate, adults with a doctor’s recommendation can receive a medical marijuana card and then buy up to 2.5 ounces every two weeks.
Patients must have at least one qualifying medical condition to get a card. Those range from AIDS, cancer, glaucoma to severe and chronic pain, which is the most common reason cited for needing a card.
The health department recently discussed adding post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and migraines to that list of debilitating medical conditions. Humble rejected the idea, however, due to a lack of scientific information on the risks and benefits of using marijuana to treat these conditions.
The department is accepting petitions again through the end of January for conditions to add to the list.
With 45,000 cardholders, only 33 had their cards revoked last year. Applications for cards peaked in May and August and most cardholders bought their medicine from dispensaries on Fridays, followed by Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Most bought from dispensaries an average of 10 times, however, one patient made 314 purchases.
On average, there are six cardholders per 1,000 residents in the state. But in Gila County, it is double that with 12.6 cardholders per 1,000 residents.
Those cardholders also allowed to grow their own supply averages about one per 1,000 residents in the state. Again, in Gila County that number is a lot higher. For every 1,000 residents here, 6.2 are allowed to grow.
A handful of dispensaries accounted for 40 percent of medical marijuana sales, although the health department cannot reveal individual dispensary sales.
“Perhaps the most striking thing in the report is that 25 doctors have signed about 70 percent (about 25,000) of the 36,000 or so certifications in year two,” Humble said. “And a handful of doctors wrote more than 2,000 certifications. That doesn’t necessarily mean that these docs aren’t acting in the best interests of their patients, but it does give us some insight into which ones we should be focusing on to ensure that they’re meeting our certification expectations.”