Photo courtesy Joe Haslag Joe Haslag, University of Missouri Economics Professor
Another set of projections comes courtesy of MU’s Economic and Policy Analysis Research Center, led by Springfield native Joe Haslag, who is an economics professor and the Kenneth Lay Chair. DHSS commissioned Haslag and two of his colleagues to study the potential market in Missouri. They released their findings this spring. “I was really hopeful walking into this,” Haslag says. “I thought, ‘There’s some states that have long histories in this. I’ll get some great data for 10 or 15 years…’ But the data just don’t exist.” Using the number of patients enrolled in 19 states’ medical marijuana programs from September 2015, the best available data, Haslag and his colleagues found that, on average, 0.7% of a state’s population are qualified patients. When accounting for the fact that many of these programs have already existed for several years, the economists predict just 0.3% of Missourians, or 19,000 people, will become qualified patients in 2020. By 2022, they expect the patient population to grow to 26,100.
We talked with Haslag this summer, and he offered a more hopeful outlook. “Missouri is really trying to model itself [on Arizona],” he says. “If you used Arizona’s fraction of population and how long it took them to get there, we could be as big as 60,000 within the first year.” That equates to about 1% of Missouri’s population, or 10,300 patients across southwest Missouri.
These numbers—anywhere from 26,100, the official MU report projection, to DHSS’s 183,800 or so—should be taken with a grain of salt. That’s because anyone who offers an estimate relies, at least in part, on the number of patients who use weed in the 32 other states and District of Columbia, where medical marijuana is legal. None of the existing medical marijuana programs are identical, and data reporting methods are just as varied. Most importantly, those places aren’t Missouri. So, right now everyone is just making their best guess, and it’s too soon to say who will be right.
One factor that will likely impact how many Missourians start using marijuana as medicine is the number of certifying doctors. Many large health systems that rely on federal funding are hesitant to allow physicians to certify patients while marijuana is still a Schedule I drug, and many doctors don’t know much about using marijuana as a treatment option.
Two days before the state began accepting patient applications, Mercy announced in a statement that its physicians would not be certifying patients because “there is insufficient medical and scientific research on the benefits and risks of cannabis products as part of medical treatment.” CoxHealth and Joplin’s Freeman Health System followed suit the next day. “Because we must certify every year that we are in compliance with all federal laws, or risk losing the ability to provide care for Medicare and Medicaid patients, we cannot act in a manner that is in any way inconsistent with federal law,” a statement from CoxHealth said, adding that any physician with privileges to see patients at CoxHealth is also barred from certifying patients at the health system’s facilities.