Medical Cannabis: The Path from Grower to Patient

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Doctor hand hold medical marijuana and seeds in vitro

Cannabis has graduated from an illicit substance to a viable retail product in states where medical cannabis is permitted. In many of the states, patients buy cannabis product the same way they would purchase other prescription medications. But how does cannabis actually get to the dispensaries that sell it? That depends on the state.

The path from grower to patient is rather straightforward in states where cannabis has been completely decriminalized. Think California and Colorado here. In more conservative states, like Utah for example, the path is much more complicated. Utahmarijuana.org says that complicating the path has both benefits and drawbacks.

  • Growing and Selling

The first step is growing the actual cannabis. There are only a small number of states that allow patients to grow their own. Home grow, as it’s known, is a thorny issue for the simple fact that it encourages recreational use. The most conservative states tend to avoid home grow at all costs.

States typically license a limited number of growers to produce enough cannabis to meet demand. Growers have one or two options at harvest time. In states that allow it, they can sell cultivated plants directly to dispensaries. The dispensaries take it from there. Where direct sales are not allowed, growers sell to processors. This is how the Utah system works.

  • Processing the Plants

Cannabis processors have to be licensed as well. Having said that, some states have drawn a clear delineation between hemp processing and marijuana processing. Separate licenses are required for both. Other states allow processors to work with both plants under a single license. It is really just a matter of jurisdictional preference.

At the processing facility, marijuana and hemp plants are subjected to a variety of processes intended to extract the desired substances. THC, CBD, and terpenes are what processors value most. They are the raw ingredients from which medical cannabis products are made.

From there, processors have two options. They can utilize the extracted materials to produce their own medical cannabis products. Alternatively, they can sell the raw materials to manufacturers.

  • Manufacturing Products

THC, CBD, and terpenes are integrated into everything from vaping liquids to cannabis gummies. Like growers and processors, manufacturers have to be licensed to do what they do. They also act as the final link in the wholesale chain. Their customers are the retail dispensaries who purchase the products to stock their shelves.

Note that most states limit what manufacturers can produce. Using Utah as an example again, only certain indigestible products are allowed. Manufacturers can produce capsules, tablets, oral sprays, and gummies. They cannot produce edibles like cookies and brownies.

  • Dispensary Sales

The final step in the path from grower to patient is the dispensary. Dispensaries act as pharmacies in most states. They are staffed by Pharmacy Medical Providers (PMPs) required to undergo specialized training in order to be certified.

Most states require patients to obtain medical cannabis cards from the appropriate regulatory agency. Obtaining a card requires a visit to a medical professional qualified to recommend cannabis. It should also be noted that states limit the conditions for which medical cannabis can be recommended.

At the dispensary, a patient relies on information from the doctor along with advice provided by the pharmacist. Patient and pharmacist work together to determine which products would be best for that patient’s situation. Subsequent visits lead to further consultations as the two attempt to refine product, delivery method, and dosage.

Now you know how medical cannabis gets from grower to patient. It can be a long and winding road in the most strictly regulated states.

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