Medical Marijuana Patients Number 750,000 In California


Graphic: MJ Dispensaries of Southern California

Retail Market Is $1.5 Billion To $4.5 Billion Per Year

There are now more than 750,000 medical marijuana patients in California, representing two percent of the population according to the most recent data, estimates California NORML. At the high end, an estimate of more than 1,125,000 patients, or three percent of the population, is consistent with the data.

This represents a substantial increase from Cal NORML‘s earlier estimates of 300,000 in 2007, 150,000 in 2005, and 75,000 in 2004, but is in line with registration rates in other comparable states that enjoy similar wide access to medical cannabis clinics and dispensaries.

The exact number of patients in California is uncertain, because patients aren’t required to register in the Golden State. Under Prop 215, California’s medical marijuana law, patients need only a physician’s recommendation to be legal.

Just a tiny fraction of the California’s medical marijuana population is enlisted in the state’s voluntary ID card program, which issued just 12,659 cards in 2009-2010. Therefore, California’s patient numbers must be estimated from other sources.
Among the most salient sources of data are medical marijuana registries in Colorado and Montana, which report patient rates of 2.5 percent and 3.0 percent, respectively.
Because California’s law is older and has more liberal inclusion criteria than in other states, usage there is likely to be higher, according to Cal NORML.

Photo: CannaCentral
Dale Gieringer, Cal NORML: “The data show that medical marijuana users are becoming an increasingly important constituency”

​Despite this, there is no evidence that liberal access to medical marijuana has spurred overall marijuana use in California. According to U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data, the total number of cannabis users in the state, including non-medical ones, amounts to 6.7 percent of the population (2.5 million) within the past month, or 11.3 percent (4.1 million) within the past year.
This places California only slightly above the national average in marijuana use (6.0 percent monthly and 10.4 percent yearly), and below several states with tougher marijuana laws.
Use of cannabis by California school youth has declined since Proposition 215 passed, according to data from the Attorney General’s Survey of Student Drug Use in California. The increase in medical marijuana use therefore appears to reflect a tendency for existing users to “go medical,” rather than the enlistment of new users.
The total retail value of medical marijuana consumed in California can be estimated at between $1.5 billion and $4.5 billion per year, assuming a market of 2 percent to 3 percent of the population, with average use of 0.5 to 1 gram per day, and an average cost of $320 per ounce.
“Marijuana’s popularity can be explained by its low toxicity, pleasant effects, and remarkably wide range of therapeutic uses, over 250 of which have been reported,” Cal NORML said in a press release.
By far the leading application is chronic pain, which accounts for the majority of all recommendations. Studies by California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research have shown that marijuana is particularly effective for neuropathic pain, an otherwise difficult to treat condition that afflicts up to 7 to 8 percent of the population.
Patients who use marijuana for pain commonly report significant reductions in their use of other medications, in particular prescription opiates. 
“The data show that medical marijuana users are becoming an increasingly important constituency,” said California NORML Director Dale Gieringer. “It is time for the federal government to stop ignoring the facts and recognize their right to medicine.”