If you’re looking to enter the cannabis market, starting out in a state that has approved medical marijuana only can be a good strategic move. But alongside the opportunities in medical-only states are also limitations.
Currently, 20 states have medical-only programs, which are approved through either voter initiative or legislation. Each state will have its own patient registration and caregiver programs, as well as a list of debilitating conditions that qualify patients to receive state-certified medical marijuana cards.
Even with a medical marijuana card, though, only certain states and municipalities allow individuals under the age of 21 to purchase cannabis.
So, which states are ideal for getting into the medical marijuana market, and which ones should you keep an eye on for future developments? Read on to find out.
Pennsylvania: Most Successful Medical Marijuana Program
Pennsylvania easily tops the list of hot medical-only states, proclaiming itself as one of “the most successful programs across the country.” Success here isn’t measured by registered patients or dispensaries but rather the efficiency and continued development of the state’s overall program.
Pennsylvania’s 23 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana aren’t limited to terminal illnesses. People with conditions across the board, from chronic pain to cancer, are able to get their medication.
The state has 119 dispensaries but only 30 growers and processors. Capping off licenses to create this ratio has contributed massively to Pennsylvania’s success, and some of the hotter recreational states are now trying to emulate this model.
Further, Pennsylvania’s competitive application and licensing process has kept it from facing the same problems as states like New Jersey, whose lenient processes have kept medical marijuana programs tied up in litigation and prevented them from getting a proper jumpstart on their programs.
Oklahoma: Hungry for Quality Brands
In many ways, Oklahoma is the exact opposite of Pennsylvania: Its market is incredibly saturated with 10,000-plus licenses, and the state is notorious for a lack of quality control. However, its low barrier of entry is an excellent opportunity for those who know how to operate under higher standards of quality.
Business is booming, and the fact that so many are out there doing it wrong — from branding and marketing to customer service to the product itself — leaves the door wide open for someone to do it right.
The best way to enter the Oklahoma market is through manufacturing, which only makes up 13% of licenses compared to cultivation (64%) and retail (21.9%). In other words, there’s a ton of product out there but not enough people to process it.
On the flip side, despite fewer manufacturing licenses, there are still many brands out there to compete with — many of whom have very poor branding and marketing (or none at all).
The companies that do have good branding and marketing are usually multi-state operators (MSOs) who have recognized the opportunity of introducing quality into a low-quality market that is so easy to enter.
Delaware: On Its Way to Legalization
Although Delaware is small, it’s on the brink of opportunity. The state recently passed House Bill 150, initiating its path to legalization for adult recreational use. That means it’s the perfect time for dispensaries with dual licenses to get an early in.
From an operator’s perspective, it’s best to get started in a state that either already has a successful adult-use market or will allow adult-use soon. When Illinois and New Jersey first legalized adult-use, for example, they opened early application rounds specifically for their medical marijuana license holders.
Now, dispensaries with dual licenses are raking in the profits while those with only adult-use licenses have been tied up in litigation for more than a year. Dispensaries in Delaware also have the advantage of reciprocation: Customers with medical marijuana cards for other states, such as Pennsylvania, can shop in Delaware, too.
Note that there are already a few MSOs in Delaware, including Columbia Care and CannTech (acquired by Ayr Technologies), and there may be legal issues with attempts to block the adult-use bill. But overall, Delaware is a small state with big opportunities — especially for dispensaries with dual licenses.
Mississippi: A Cautionary Tale
Until recently, Mississippi was well on its way to becoming a hot state to enter. In November 2020, 74% of the population voted in favor of the state’s medical marijuana initiative, and Mississippi’s cannabis market was poised to be a competitive but extremely lucrative industry.
Politicians and legislators were less excited about the initiative. On May 14, 2021, the state’s Supreme Court overturned Initiative 65, citing a “flawed process.” Now, for any such legislation to pass, it must be done by lawmakers rather than citizens, and the state’s once-promising cannabis market is stalled for the foreseeable future.
However, the people can still fight the decision by appealing to their lawmakers. Despite the obstacles, people interested in getting into the Mississippian cannabis market should keep an eye on the state’s future developments.
States to Watch for Medical Marijuana Programs
In addition to the above four states, cannabis entrepreneurs should keep an eye on a number of states whose medical marijuana developments are currently in process.
Ohio has just opened up its medical marijuana round for the first time in years. The state not only approved three additional debilitating conditions to qualify patients for a medical card but is also going to double its marijuana dispensaries and award 73 additional licenses later this year.
Lowering the barrier of entry suggests that the state is preparing to expand its patient base significantly and may even approve recreational marijuana use soon.
Although South Dakota does not have a medical marijuana program set up just yet, both medical and recreational cannabis were approved on their ballot in November 2020. Its Supreme Court is trying to fight the recreational side — and will probably win — but the state is planning on moving forward with a medical program.
While this will create more opportunity for medical dispensaries, they could become overwhelmed if they don’t have enough cultivators or producers. Still, South Dakota is a state to watch because there will likely be opportunity for business licenses in the near future, once the adult-use mess is sorted out.
In Missouri, opportunity for more licenses is coming soon, although we don’t have an exact date yet. The first round was very competitive, and with competition comes a lucrative market, so keep an eye out for the second round to open.
Knowing which states to enter — and when — can be crucial for the success of your medical marijuana dispensary. Contact us at Higher Yields Cannabis Consulting to determine which state is the best fit for you and how you can get in with the strongest application.