Arizona's more than 43,000 medical marijuana patients smoked, ate or otherwise consumed close to three tons of the weed last year.
And that's what we know about.
State Health Director Will Humble said Thursday the figure reflects how much was sold by the state's 71 dispensaries. But Humble pointed out that most of these legal marijuana shops had not yet opened their doors until later in 2013. Prior to that, thousands of patients not near a dispensary could grow their own without state oversight.
Now, with dispensaries in most of the state's populated areas, Humble said that self-grow will go down — and formal purchases will go up. And that, he said, could boost the on-the-record sales for 2014 as high as 10 tons.
The health director also said an analysis of dispensary records shows Friday as the busiest day, followed closely by Saturday.
He would not speculate about that pattern, but Humble said that, overall, it's impossible to create a program where only those who need the drug can get it.
“I think we have a hybrid program, to be honest with you,” he said.
“There's obviously recreational patients within the system,” Humble continued. “And there always will be. My main goal is to keep it as medical as possible and to minimize the community problems that can result from a recreational program.”
The 2010 voter-approved law allows those with a doctor's recommendation to get a state-issued card allowing them obtain up to 2 1/2 ounces of the drug every two weeks.
Qualifying conditions under the law range from cancer and seizures to glaucoma, AIDS and nausea. The law also permits those not within 25 miles of a dispensary to grow their own medication.
Initially, that was anyone with a medical marijuana card, as the first dispensaries didn't open until late 2012. Now someone would have to live in such out-of-the-way places like Ajo, St. Johns or Seligman to continue to cultivate.
The newly released report also shows some that the average patient made 10 purchases a year, but Humble said one person actually made 314 trips to a dispensary — close to every day of the year. Humble said, though, that each of these person's purchases had to be small, as a statewide computer database ensures that, number of purchases aside, no one gets more than that 2 1/2 ounces every two weeks.
The largest number of transactions was by those in the 18-to-30 year old group, but Humble said that the average size of their purchases were smaller than older groups.
Humble could only speculate on the reason.
“It could be that the younger patients are more price sensitive, so they end of having to make more transactions, going to the dispensary and buying smaller amounts than some of the older patients,” he said. “It could be that the younger patients have less serious chronic medical conditions and therefore don't need as much to treat their pain.”
He said it could be that those 30 and younger don't have as severe medical conditions — or simply that they don't have as much available cash for purchases.
Humble also said that just five of the state's dispensaries accounted for 40 percent of the total marijuana sold — 154,187 transactions totaling about 2,400 pounds. He said state law precludes him from identifying the dispensaries or even in what communities they are located.
Not surprisingly, the state's largest county had the largest number of medical marijuana users.
The data from the Department of Health Services shows that, on a per-capital basis, Yavapai County has more people saying they need the drug than anywhere else, followed by Gila and Coconino counties.
At the other extreme, Yuma County had the lowest per capita rate of medical marijuana patients.
The health director said he is looking at making some changes in state regulations to tighten up the program.
He said the biggest problem so far is with dispensaries delivering deliver marijuana to qualifying patients. That, he acknowledged, is perfectly legal.
But he said the current rules are too lax, to the point of allowing “a guy with a laptop and some marijuana in a parking lot or something like that saying they're working as part of the dispensary off-site.”
Humble also is waiting for a court ruling on how far dispensaries can go in making food and drink products out of marijuana.
The voter-approved law clearly allows for such items, but Humble said he reads the law to permit only products which contain actual pieces of the plant, such as grinding up leaves and flowers and baking them into brownies.
What's happened, though, is some dispensaries are creating a chemical “extract” of the psychoactive and other ingredients in the drug and putting that into their food products, without any actual pieces. Humble, backed by Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery, contends that is illegal.
In a lawsuit, Jacob and Jennifer Welton say a product made from extracts is the only thing that has helped control “numerous active seizures” their 5-year-old son Zander suffers because of birth defects that have affected development of his brain. They are asking Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Katherine Cooper to rule that extracts are permitted.
A hearing is set for next month.