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A year into legal sales, medical marijuana patients see high prices and long waits

Workers at gLeaf Medical tend to plants in a grow room at the Richmond medical marijuana...
Workers at gLeaf Medical tend to plants in a grow room at the Richmond medical marijuana dispensary.(Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Published: Oct. 11, 2021 at 7:59 AM EDT
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As Virginia’s medical marijuana industry closes out its first year of sales, some patients are complaining about long waits to register with the state and high prices once they get into dispensaries.

“A month’s supply costs me between $600 and $700 — and that’s not covered by insurance,” says Tamara Netzel, a former schoolteacher from Virginia Beach who suffers from multiple sclerosis and has found cannabis far more effective than any other available pain treatment.

The state’s medical marijuana program is currently the only legal avenue to purchase marijuana in Virginia. The four medical processors currently licensed by the state began opening to patients last October.

But to shop at the medical dispensaries, patients must first get a doctor to write them a recommendation and then apply to the state for a medical marijuana card.

Finding a doctor is easy — dozens of practices have popped up offering to set up online visits with doctors willing to recommend the drug for all manner of ailments. Some even offer deals, promising to reimburse the $100 cost of an appointment if their practitioner declines to sign off on a marijuana card.

But Netzel, who runs a Facebook group for medical marijuana patients, lamented that the next step — getting the state to review an application and issue a medical marijuana card — can take more than a month.

“If a doctor can turn around a letter right away within 30 minutes, why does it take six weeks for the Virginia Board of Pharmacy to send a paper card?” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Board of Pharmacy, Diane Powers, said the board tries to process all applications within 30 business days and is in the process of adding staff to help with an influx of applications, which she said arrive at a rate of more than 1,000 a week.

And by early 2022, she said the board hopes to have a new online application portal in place it says will expedite the process. The board charges patients $50 a year in registration fees.

Patients aren’t the only ones frustrated by the delays. Processors have expressed disappointment at the still-narrow pool of patients who can purchase their products, a figure that as of Oct. 4 sits at just under 33,000.

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.(Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.

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