The effects of the 4/20 cannabis holiday and adult-use cannabis legalization on medical cannabis sales and medical cannabis patient registration in Arizona


Background:

This study examined whether the 4/20 cannabis holiday was associated with increases in medical cannabis sales from licensed dispensaries in Arizona from 2018-2021, and whether adult-use cannabis legalization (the vote in November 2020 and retail sales in January 2021) was associated with declines in medical cannabis sales and in the number of registered medical patients.


Methods:

Data came from the Arizona Medical Marijuana Program monthly reports from January 2018-December 2021. The reports show daily sales from licensed medical cannabis dispensaries (i.e., the number of medical cannabis dispensary transactions and the amount of cannabis sold in pounds), which we averaged by week, and show the number of registered medical cannabis patients each month. Autoregressive integrated moving average models were used to test changes in these outcomes associated with the 4/20 cannabis holiday and with legalization of adult-use cannabis.


Results:

During the week of the 4/20 cannabis holiday, medical cannabis dispensary transactions abruptly increased by an average of 2,319.4 transactions each day (95% CI: 1636.1, 3002.7), and the amount of medical cannabis sold increased by an average of 120.3 pounds each day (95% CI: 99.3-141.3). During the first week of adult-use cannabis sales in late January 2021, medical cannabis dispensary transactions abruptly decreased by an average of 5,073 transactions each day (95% CI: -5,929.5, -4216.7), and the amount of medical cannabis sold decreased by an average of 119.1 pounds each day (95% CI: -144.2, -94.0). Moreover, medical cannabis sales continued to gradually decline each week after the start of adult-use retail sales, with declines in sales preceding declines in registered patients. By December 2021, slightly over a year after the vote to legalize adult-use cannabis, the actual number of registered medical cannabis patients fell short of the forecasted number, had adult-use not been legalized, by 36.5%. Moreover, the number of medical dispensary transactions and the amount of medical cannabis sold fell short of expectations, had adult-use cannabis not been legalized, by 58% and 53%, respectively.


Conclusions:

Findings document the blurred boundary between medical and non-medical cannabis use and are consistent with the possibility that medical cannabis legalization contributes to increases in adult cannabis use and dependence.


Keywords:

Cannabis; Legalization; Medical marijuana; Misuse; Sales.

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