Sticker shock: 'High demand' increasing medical marijuana prices

Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health and a medical marijuana advocate, participates in a panel discussion about medical marijuana during Leadership Oklahoma's Lunch and Learn at Oakwood Country Club in May. (Bonnie Vculek / Enid News & Eagle)

OKLAHOMA CITY — As the first cannabis harvest hits shelves, medical marijuana patients are experiencing sticker shock at dispensaries.

“It’s a supply and demand issues I would say,” said Chip Paul, chairman of Oklahomans for Health and a medical marijuana advocate. “Some people crying about the price being high will be glad when it drops.”

Paul said there’s a glut of patients seeking the drug, but not enough cannabis to meet the need. He said only the first growers that received their license currently are harvesting.

As a result, he said Oklahoma dispensaries are selling medical cannabis for about $400 to $450 an ounce. Ideally, the drug should sell for about $150 an ounce, Paul said.

“Growers are getting good money right now,” Paul said. “That will be a temporary situation because nobody is harvesting yet.”

As of Sunday, the state had issued more than 1,100 growing licenses, according to Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority. Nearly 15,000 Oklahomans now hold patient licenses, and nearly 700 dispensaries have been licensed.

Chris Moe, a cannabis activist better known as "Uncle Grumpy," said many marijuana entrepreneurs thought they could become overnight millionaires. The first people with product are selling it for $20 to $30 a gram, he said.

“Personally, I think it’s a little too high of a profit margin,” he said. “They seem to think they’re going to make all their money back on their first harvest.”

Moe said marijuana ideally should be selling for $6 to $12 per gram, but it will take time to reach that price point.

Federal law prohibits transporting the drug across state lines, so all marijuana sold in Oklahoma must be grown within the state.

“We’re going to have to pay these prices for awhile and complain a lot,” he said.

Meanwhile, Moe said, the high prices don’t do anyone any good.

They’re driving people with legal patient licenses to buy it illegally on the black market where dealers are selling it as low as $200 an ounce, he said.

“We’ve got to get it (the price point) below black market prices,” he said. “Right now, with these high prices we are now booming in the black market.”

Shawn Jenkins, who plans to open a dispensary in Coweta in January, said dispensary owners are charging high prices because growers are charging them high prices.

“There’s a high demand, no pun intended, from patients because they’ve been waiting for years and years and years,” said Jenkins, who also holds patient, grower and processor licenses.

Dispensaries owners, meanwhile, are forced to mark up prices about 300 percent because of federal taxation, he said. That margin is standard for dispensaries operating in other states, he said.

“Because of that, you’re seeing very inflated prices,” he said. “And no, patients are not happy about it.”

He said a month’s supply of CBD oil to treat epilepsy is selling for about $275.

As more businesses come on line beginning in 2019, Jenkins said the pricing likely will rop to levels closer to the national standard.

The increased competition will be better for Oklahoma consumers and patients, he said.

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Stecklein is CNHI Oklahoma Capitol Bureau Chief for CNHI News Service publication newspapers. She can be reached at jstecklein@cnhi.com.

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