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December 14, 2007

Components of the Emergent Pot Market: physicians

The last entry dealt with the sudden emergence of a vigorous multimillion dollar gray market for medical marijuana that didn’t become visible until early 2004 and has subsequently surprised many observers,  particularly in Los Angeles and San Diego. I also implied that perhaps that emergence had been more predictable than might have appeared and that neither federal supporters of the drug war nor their political opponents in Reform seem eager to discuss its size and profitability.  

But enough politics; let’s first take a look at how the peculiar requirements of Proposition 215 influenced the market that followed its passage. 215’s primary requirement was physician participation. It was slow to evolve and took place in discrete phases.

Phase 1,1997-2001
The initiative’s major requirement was that all claimed medical use  had to be approved (recommended) by a licensed physician.  The drug czar’s immediate threat against the icenses of compliant physician was blocked by injunction,  but it served as effective discouragement for a while. and made the first patient evaluations by a small coterie of pot-friendly physicians slow going. However, 20 000 or so (nearly 10,000 by the late Tod M.) were thought to have been issued by the time I began seeing applicants at an Oakland club in November 2001. What I didn’t realize then was that I was part of the leading edge of  second wave of pot docs, most of whom were more attracted by the business opportunities implicit in providing recommendations than in politics. Because I was an older maverick and could easily recall a time when pot was unknown in High Schools and Junior Highs, my own interest had been curiosity about how the phenomenon of widespread pot use had occurred in the first place.

As I would soon discover, but was somewhat slow to realize, that curiosity would put me progressively out of step with most colleagues in the reform movement.

Phase 2, 2003-2004
In any event, what next started to happen sometime in 2003  were fluorishing medical practices, designed to provide pot recommendations to walk-ins seven days a week opened in multipe locations around the state and quickly multiplied the number of potential customers at least four-fold. The ensuing demand for retail locations where newly certified  patients could buy  pot began at about the same time they began calling themselves “dispensaries,” and the few remaining doctors who had been seeing patients in “clubs” to keep overhead down prudently moved to separate offices. For me, that was in mid 2004 when the Oakland club lost its business license.

Phase 3, Early 2005-Present
Other than harassment of some physicians by San Diego and LA police, or the DEA sending in phony patients as snitches, doctors who recommend pot are being left alone. The continued emergence of new clinics suggests further market expansion is a possibility. Also remember that the emergent gray market is only an (unknown) fraction of the overall cannabis market.

The next entry will address the pot market’s demand  (patient) component in more detail.

Doctor Tom

Posted by tjeffo at December 14, 2007 06:04 PM