Wellcana Group, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is one of only two licensed medical marijuana growers currently supplying dispensaries with wholesale cannabis products. On June 22nd, 2020, the cultivator announced a significant price cut on medical marijuana products sold to nine dispensaries in Louisiana.
Medical marijuana sales through Louisiana dispensaries started in August 2019. Compared to other states where medical cannabis is legalized, Louisiana delayed access because of significant regulatory roadblocks.
Louisiana also has one of the most restrictive medical cannabis programs in the country. Registered patients are able to purchase a thirty-day supply of non-smokable medical marijuana (tinctures) and cannabis oil (vape cartridges) only for metered-dose inhalers. Capsules and topical creams and ointments are also legal for registered patients in Louisiana.
Supply and Demand for Louisiana Medical Cannabis Isn’t The Problem
Earlier in February 2020, Wellcana Group announced that it was processing more than 570 cannabis plants per month in Louisiana. The state has not experienced a problem with supply from the designated and licensed cultivator. Surprisingly, low sales of medical cannabis to qualified patients have been stifled by cost.
One story was shared by a 36-year old special education teacher, Jessica Potts, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis a the age of 21. When medical marijuana was first legalized on August 6, 2019, Potts saw the opportunity to access an alternative treatment for debilitating and unmanaged chronic pain.
Potts learned quickly after becoming a registered medical marijuana patient in Louisiana, that the retail price of tinctures to treat her chronic pain was beyond her budget. She visited a dispensary to purchase three bottles of tincture (about one-month supply) and was charged $398.00. This was a monthly cost that she could not afford and commented she would be unable to participate in the medical cannabis program because of the high cost of products.
The conversation about the affordability of medical cannabis products for patients in Louisiana is ongoing, as legislator push-back against legalized medical marijuana in the state has influenced pricing guidelines. Because of the Schedule I federal classification of medical cannabis, health insurance coverage is not available to subsidize costs for patients.
The Price Widely Varies by State for One Ounce of Medical Cannabis
The Oxford Treatment Center (American Addictions Treatment Center) provides a resource page that compares the cost of medical marijuana per ounce, across legalized states. At the time of writing, The District of Columbia holds the top spot for America’s most expensive medical cannabis, at $597.88 per ounce.
The national average price for medical cannabis is $326.60 per ounce. States with legalized adult-use or recreational cannabis feature the lowest prices per ounce. Increased competition influences a more affordable price for medical and recreational cannabis users.
However, in states that have restricted the number of dispensaries and those that permit access to medical cannabis exclusively, the market can be monopolistic. This drives the price up extensively. With fewer choices, registered patients feel that captive pricing is prohibitive for those who would benefit from therapeutic medical marijuana.
The state of Louisiana made sweeping changes to patient eligibility by allowing physicians to recommend patients at their own discretion for medical cannabis. However, the sales volume of medical marijuana in the state has been lackluster since August 2019. Patients have begun to protest the high cost of medical cannabis. Many say the high prices keep patients on disability and fixed incomes from accessing the benefits of the Louisiana medical cannabis program.
If the wholesale cost of medical cannabis products from Wellcana are passed on to registered patients purchasing at clinical dispensaries, Louisiana may see an uptick in program participation, medical cannabis sales, and state tax revenue. Most importantly, the state will be removing barriers of access to patients who may benefit from medical cannabis treatments.