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How Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Will Adjust To Legalization Of Recreational Pot

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio
 

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

Kimberly Cargile is one of dozens of dispensary owners in Sacramento.

She opened A Therapeutic Alternative in 2009. She says her store serves more than 40,000 patients throughout California. In addition to buying cannabis products, patients can also take advantage of free services like yoga and massage therapy.

“I believe that a patient has a right to heal themselves by all means necessary," Cargile says. "So we really are on the cutting edge.”

There are 30 dispensaries in Sacramento that cater to people with a doctor recommendation for medicinal marijuana.

That number will soon increase as thousands of applications are expected for dispensaries that will sell cannabis to recreational users.

A physician recommendation for marijuana is no longer needed under the state's Adult Use of Marijuana Act, but until 2018 there is no store where a person can legally buy cannabis without a recommendation.

The question is whether existing shops will open their businesses to recreational users next year.

“We will stay medical," Cargile says. "There are plenty of legit patients who come to us who really need our services. We believe that we’ll be able to stay sustainable in the face of quite a bit of competition from recreational stores.”

Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, says he's spoken to dispensary owners who want to stay medical. But Bradley says many of them have changed their minds.

“It’s just expanding your market. If you’re a business owner, why would you not want to expand your market?” he says.

Bradley says Prop 64 was written to complement California's existing legal framework for medical marijuana. He says the goal is to have one system with two sets of retail licenses — one for medicinal marijuana and another for recreational cannabis.

“But that is what we’d like to see for the long run instead of creating the bureaucracy of two separate systems with two separate sets of rules you have to be in compliance with,” Bradley says.

State regulators have until the end of the year to finalize rules for licensing and taxing recreational marijuana.

No matter what they decide, Prop 64 already says that all cannabis users can expect a 15 percent excise tax on the retail price of marijuana beginning Jan. 1. On top of that, recreational pot buyers will have to pay local and state sales taxes.

Medicinal marijuana users with a recommendation, Medical Marijuana Identification Card from the state department of public health and an ID are exempt from sales tax. Medicinal users have no limits on the amount of marijuana they can possess.

Recreational users can possess up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrated cannabis.

“So, because it’s not an insanely high tax break you get, if you’re not a regular daily consumer it’s not in your best interest to go get that recommendation," Bradley says. "But if you’re an actual medical patient then it’s still in your best interest.”

One Sacramento woman — who has asked to remain anonymous for this story — says she’s going to renew her recommendation for medicinal marijuana.

She was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer and decided to use cannabis during chemotherapy. It wasn't long before she realized not all dispensaries were capable of meeting her needs.

“(There are) tons and tons of products, but people aren’t really knowledgeable about the products they have and they’re not really there diagnosing or asking you what’s bothering you to help you figure it out,” she says.

Then she found Kimberly Cargile's dispensary.

"I come here, and I could take a breath and relax and get a massage and get some edibles," she says, explaining that she couldn't have gone through chemotherapy without using medical cannabis.

And these are the type of patients Cargile says she wants to help.

"We’ve been providing services for serious patients. We’ve kind of built a niche where someone who is just trying to get high and get some weed doesn’t really waste their time and money here cause it’s a lengthy process and we’re probably the most expensive place in town,” Cargile says.

She says her company plans on staying true to its intention of being a holistic health center.