WASHINGTON (Feb. 9, 2023)––In a new study released today, Stacey McKenna, a resident senior fellow in the R Street Institute’s Integrated Harm Reduction program, explores the state of medical cannabis access across the United States, barriers faced by patients looking to obtain these products, how this market intersects with the growing recreational cannabis industry and the impacts that its status as a federally banned substance has on medical cannabis users.

Drawing on interviews conducted exclusively for this study with 14 medical cannabis users from California, Colorado, Florida and Virginia, McKenna details how overregulation and taxes limit product and dispensary choice, restrict accessibility and increase costs. McKenna reflects on the experiences of these individuals and the policy landscape and makes several recommendations, including improving affordability, calling for the descheduling of cannabis on the federal level and developing strategies to improve access.

To make medical cannabis more affordable and accessible, states can eliminate or reduce excise and other taxes on the product, create donation programs or need-based waivers and discounts, incorporate medical cannabis into state-based insurance programs, protect the licenses of health care providers who recommend cannabis as permitted by state law, eliminate too-low caps on purchases and possession, and permit brick-and-mortar dispensaries and delivery services to operate without local approval.

In addition to reforms adopted at the state level, local jurisdictions can help by making zoning requirements for medical dispensaries similar to pharmacies. The federal government could also assist by descheduling cannabis, which would create financial opportunities for a more diverse mix of producers, wholesalers and retailers. Descheduling would also reduce the risk of transporting medical cannabis across states where its legal status may differ.

As McKenna notes, there has been increased public and scientific acceptance of medical cannabis over the past several decades, and this is reflected in the fact that more than three dozen states have legalized its medical use. But cannabis is not always readily accessible to patients in need—even in states where it is legal. Implementing the aforementioned policies will help foster a smarter, more equitable medical cannabis system for all.