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NH industry worries customers will go to Mass. to buy marijuana

By TODD FEATHERS
New Hampshire Union Leader

September 22. 2018 10:40PM
Cannabis plants are shown at Sanctuary ATC, a medical marijuana growing facility in Rochester. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER FILE PHOTO)



With Massachusetts' first recreational marijuana dispensaries poised to open in a matter of weeks, some in New Hampshire's medical pot industry worry that patients will begin heading across the border for their medicine.

The number of qualified medical marijuana users has increased steadily - from 2,089 in April of 2016, when the first Granite State dispensary opened, to 4,753 at the end of 2017 - but access to the drug has remained a concern.

The New Hampshire Legislature expanded the program by adding chronic pain and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to the list of conditions for which doctors can recommend marijuana and it passed legislation last session that will allow two more dispensaries to open in parts of the state that advocates say are underserved.

But Ted Rebholz, CEO of Temescal Wellness, which operates medical dispensaries in Lebanon and Dover, said many patients might still find it easier to forgo the registration process and buy from Bay State recreational dispensaries, many of which also will have staff trained in medicinal marijuana use.

"Let's say you're a 50-year-old and maybe you've had a couple back surgeries or broken a hip and your doctor recommends cannabis, so you qualify," he said.

A patient like that visits a Temescal dispensary 1.2 times a month, on average.

"Instead of going through this paper-based (registration) process ... you say, 'You know what? I'm just going to drive once or twice a month over the state line,'" Rebholz said. "That, for some people, is going to be more attractive than registering in New Hampshire. How big the magnitude of that will be is anybody's guess."

Recreational use of marijuana, and transporting it across state lines, remains illegal in New Hampshire and under federal law.

Nearly 70 percent of Granite Staters who are qualified to purchase medical marijuana are 50 or older, according to the most recent state data, which was published before chronic pain and PTSD became qualifying conditions.

Opinions are mixed as to whether that demographic will be more or less likely to travel out of state for their marijuana.

Industry experts say New Hampshire's registration process remains complicated and takes weeks to complete.

At the same time, New Hampshire's four dispensaries offer discounts to patients on Social Security, ranging from 10 percent off to 35 percent off, and Prime ATC, in Merrimack, gives a 10 percent discount to customers older than 65.

Once retail sales open in Massachusetts, marijuana will be taxed significantly.

"We're not so concerned because a lot of the demographic doesn't match up," said Andrew Van Houten, a patient-care adviser with Sanctuary ATC in Plymouth. "We have a lot of people here where we work with them to make it more feasible financially for them."

But there are also added costs for medical users that recreational users won't have - the state charges $50 to apply for a medical marijuana card and $50 each year to renew it.

Marijuana dispensaries require substantial startup costs. According to basic financial information submitted to the state, the three organizations operating New Hampshire's four dispensaries have yet to break even. However, that may not be a wholly accurate representation of the profits being generated.

In 2017, Prime ATC reported total sales of $1.6 million and expenses of $2.1 million. Sanctuary ATC reported sales of $1.4 million and expenses of $1.8 million and Temescal Wellness' two locations reported combined sales of $2.1 million and expenses of $3.3 million.

Massachusetts' imminent recreational shops may not pose an existential threat to the Granite State suppliers, but they will certainly cut into business, said Bethany Niebauer, a Denver-based cannabis industry consultant.

"There are going to be people for whom it's easier to illegally cross state lines, purchase what they need and drive back than it will be to get a medical card," she said. "New Hampshire dispensaries are going to be at a disadvantage."


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