Do We Still Need A Bifurcated Dispensary System?

This week, Governor Jared Polis issued an executive order proclaiming April 7th as Charlotte Figi Day in Colorado. Since Charlotte’s passing, I’ve been reflecting on just how far this industry has come because of her. I think back to when we were all introduced to her on CNN. This brave young girl, her mother, and her family truly shifted the perception of cannabis and began writing a new narrative. Before Charlotte, there were so many people who thought that medical marijuana was just a cover-up for a bunch of people that wanted to use marijuana in the stereotypical stoner fashion. The story and message of Charlotte was so powerful that it rippled across the country, changing minds, public opinion, and leading to policy changes from politicians and legislators. She opened many eyes to the real value of this plant. We celebrate Charlotte’s life and know that her flame will live on.

As I reflect on her legacy it brings another question to mind, which is, does the essential treatment of cannabis render distinctions between medical and recreational adult-use meaningless? This is a question of access, which with Charlotte’s passing in mind, is a question that carries a lot of weight.

Cannabusiness and Stay-At-Home Mandates

States like California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, and Louisiana (just to name a few) have all deemed cannabusinesses as essential, and therefore they’ve been allowed to remain open during the stay-at-home mandates issued in the last month. MJBiz has compiled a comprehensive full state-by-state list of the status of marijuana businesses in the wake of COVID-19. 

There’s a notion of a vast distinction between medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana in the United States. In states like Colorado and California we see a bifurcated dispensary system. This requires different licenses, different legal and regulatory distinctions, and a different treatment and perception of access. These businesses are essential services, but on one hand you treat the medical marijuana customer as a “patient,” and require registration via-a-vis a MMJ card. On the other hand, you treat the recreational shopper as a “customer,” which anyone over the age of 21 can access.

Should this bifurcation exist?

Let me be clear, I’m not saying there’s no distinction from scientific and medical personnel perspective. I don’t doubt the medicinal benefit of this plant, even for a second. However, from a public policy standpoint, why is it necessary for us to continue making this distinction?

In Colorado, we started with a medical marijuana regulatory system, and then in 2012, our voters enacted legislation to create an adult-use system. But couldn’t we just have one dispensary system.

It’s a matter of public policy. Look at the state of Washington. They eliminated the distinction between medical and recreational/adult-use, merging the bifurcated system in the state into essentially a single over-the-counter model.

I do believe that from a public policy perspective, a move toward an over-the-counter marijuana system is critical. It does seem that politicians are making false distinctions between marijuana dispensaries as essential for medical use versus recreational use. This has certainly been the case in Massachusetts.

Our own mayor here in the city of Denver attempted to make a distinction between medical and recreational/adult-use dispensaries as essential businesses when the stay-at-home order was issued. Within hours, the lines were so long that they had to reverse course. It seems unnecessary to continue using a bifurcated model. Especially now, in the wake of COVID-19, in what has come to light and the way we’ve treated these businesses.

Medical Marijuana Means Different Things In Different Places

Across the country, medical marijuana means different things in different places. And for so long, there’s been so much stigma around this plant for a variety of reasons. Charlotte’s story changed that. And while it was the medical model that got politicians who would not have otherwise looked at this plant as a viable alternative, to enact policy change, the times have changed.

It’s a matter of access. How do we qualify the amount of people who are using recreational marijuana access for medicinal or therapeutic reasons? It’s time for us to take what we have learned during the COVID-Pause to inform a better, more practical future in all respects. We don’t have to promulgate policy that was a means to an end. It might not be meaningless to distinguish between medical and recreational adult-use, but is it no longer necessary. Cannabis is essential. Access is essential. That’s the element here that touches Charlotte’s Legacy. The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor.