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Dispensary Prices for Medical Marijuana Concern Maine Patients
07/20/2010   Reported By: Susan Sharon

As the state's first medical marijuana dispensaries move forward, one of the concerns from qualified patients and caregivers is pricing. How much will they have to pay for an ounce of medical cannabis, and would it be cheaper to get it on the black market? State regulators have given high points to dispensaries with low-cost or no-cost medical marijuana programs but skepticism about cost and competition abounds.

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Chris Kenoyer can't remember the last time he had a pain-free day. Diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease in his back, Kenoyer says he considers a pain threshold of "seven" a good day. And that's where his pain medication comes in.

"This here's what we call Granddaddy Purple," he says. "Smell it? Soon as you open up the bag you can smell it. Here's a couple buds. And when medicating with this I can do three or four puffs and I'm looking for someplace to set the bowl down because I don't need anymore. I'm good for three to four hours."

Kenoyer says he prefers medical cannabis over opiates because of the way it makes him feel, and because he fears becoming addicted to pain pills. An ounce of Granddaddy Purple costs about $350. Kenoyer goes through about two ounces a month. And because he's on a fixed income, he recently started growing his own medical cannabis in a brightly-lit closet in his apartment.

His doctor's written recommendation for medical cannabis use is posted on the closet door. "This here is a very simple closet setup where you can do your legal six plants. Price tag is about $800 to get it set up and going right. But this is big enough to grow all six legal plants for any medical marijuana patient to do in his own closet."

Kenoyer says he has no plans to register as a medical marijuana patient, as required, at the end of the year. And he has no plans to use a dispensary. Like some other patients, he worries about his privacy and the prices dispensaries will charge.

The Northeast Patients' Group, which will be operating dispensaries in four of the state's eight regions, plans to charge about $340 an ounce.

"Each applicant arrived at their own pricing," says Catherine Cobb, the licensing director for the Department of Health and Human Services, who reviewed and approved the dispensary applications. "The comments that we heard from dispensary applicants was that there was a concern that if it was priced too low, than people would buy it from the dispensary and sell it on the street instead of using it for their own purposes."

A spokesperson for the Northeast Patient's Group did not return a telephone call seeking comment for this story, but in its winning dispensary applications, the group spelled out plans to offer medical marijuana to qualified low-income patients free of charge.

Patients would have to not only have a doctor's authorization, but they would have to demonstrate that they were below federal poverty guidelines. Remedy Compassion Center, the dispensary group selected for western Maine also did not return a call to MPBN. Its application says it will offer discounted cannabis to low income patients.

Cobb says this was important in the application process. "One of the areas where providers could score well was in how they were going to operate as a non-profit. If you look at the mission of the non-profit, we looked for what they were going to do for people who couldn't afford the full freight."

Cobb says some medical cannabis may be donated back to a dispensary by patients who don't need it, or she says what goes to low income patients may come from a dispensary's own supply.

"I don't believe it's going to be no cost," says Marie, who asked that we not use her last name. Marie is a breast cancer patient with rheumatoid arthritis who believes dispensaries can't afford to be that generous.

Marie regularly uses medical cannabis but does not plan to register with the state or use a dispensary. "Because in the situation I have now, I have the medications I need and it does not cost me to control all the constant pain that I'm in." Marie says she smokes about four times a day, but all her medicine is donated free of charge by other patients and caregivers.

One person anxious to see that trend continue is medical marijuana activist and AIDS patient Charlie Wynott of Westbrook, who's been trying to get patients low cost medication for two decades. He says some caregivers and some on the black market are already offering patients medical cannabis for $150 an ounce, and he sees the dispensary price of $340 as too high.

"There is no motivation to go to a dispensary, that's my point," Wynott says. "I mean you can go to a dealer and get black market prices and who's going go to a dispensary, where they're going to have their name on a list and have to carry a card, when they get it from their local dealer which is probably living right next door. And in that essence they're just going to be put out of business, you know?"

Catherine Cobb of DHHS says, in the end, she thinks prices will be determined by what people are willing to pay. But Charlie Wynott isn't waiting. He says he's working on proposed legislation that would allow marijuana seized by law enforcement agencies to be tested and donated to qualified low income patients free of charge.





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