Being a Medical Marijuana Patient in the Times of Recreational Cannabis

Krystal Ramirez | Vegas Seven

Photography by Krystal Ramirez

Many people have been so excited about the fact that cannabis will now be accessible to everyone over 21 in Las Vegas that it’s easy to forget that there are many people (more than 27,000) who have been buying legally for nearly two years. How will the switch to adult use impact these patients come July 1, 2017, when valley dispensaries will open their doors to recreational customers?

Previously, the only way to legally purchase marijuana in Nevada was by possessing a medical marijuana card. Although it’s been officially legal to hold and consume cannabis at home since January 1, 2017, there hasn’t been anywhere for non-cardholders to legally acquire any product.

Much like in the states that legalized cannabis before it, Nevada will allow medical marijuana establishments and facilities the ability to infiltrate the recreational market unchallenged for the first 18 months. That means that many medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation centers will be transitioning either to full rec or dual use within the next six months. Like with any change, there will be some good aspects and some bad, but let’s start with the good news.

Cierra Pedro


What’s staying the same?

Of the dispensaries that will open under the Fast Track program, many will be dual use, catering to both the recreational and medical patrons. That means that it’s quite possible that the pot shops will be inundated with new customers excited to purchase cannabis legally, and lines may be extremely long. However, for at least one local dispensary, Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, this won’t affect the medical marijuana patients.

“In the event that you’re a medical cardholder and there’s a line of 45 people on the recreational side, you’ll be expedited to the front of the line,” says Gus D’Arthenay, the dispensary’s director of operations. Thrive, which has two valley locations in North Las Vegas and Downtown, will be making it a point to ensure that the experience is the same, if not better, for the loyal patients. “We’re trying to make sure the MMJ patients don’t feel alienated by the rest. We’re still focusing very strongly on serving the medical side.” He continues, “Our philosophy as a company is to have safe, affordable access to medical-grade cannabis. That won’t change.”

This policy will likely be adopted by many area dispensaries, although, unlike in other states, there won’t be a distinction between medical and recreational cannabis inventory. In Colorado, when Medicine Man dispensary converted to dual use on January 1, 2014, although the line stretched down the block, their medical patients didn’t have to wait—even though that wasn’t immediately apparent.

In the city where everyone wants to be treated like royalty, cardholding patients will get the preferential treatment that many have come to expect.

“They [patients] didn’t have longer lines, even if it appeared that way,” says Andy Williams, CEO of Medicine Man Technologies. “They could walk in, go to the counter and be helped immediately, just like it always was. The only thing they had to share was the front door, which was something to get used to.” Fortunately for the satisfied medicinal consumer, not much will change when the recreation green light is switched on, except for the brand-new tax as imposed by SB478.

Ginger Bruner


What’s changing?

Because it was recently determined that there will be no distinction between the medical and recreational inventory grown in the cultivation centers or sold in the dispensaries, nothing will be different about the product. What will be changing are the prices. Thanks to the most recent bill, a 15 percent wholesale tax, as well as the local sales tax, will be applied to sales to both medical patients and recreational consumers. An additional 10 percent excise tax will be applied to the recreational purchases only.

Is getting an MMJ card still worth it?

It’s expected that the medical marijuana market will shrink once recreational cannabis is available, as it has in the other legal markets. But in Nevada, the goal is to preserve the program. Another bill, AB422, will reduce some of the fees associated with obtaining a medical marijuana card, making it only about $130 every two years, sometimes even lower, which adds some value to remaining a medical marijuana cardholder in a recreational climate. However, with the new tax bills, the cost savings won’t be significant. Essentially, a medical marijuana card will serve as coupon, saving the patient 10 percent on each purchase, with some additional perks. In the city where everyone wants to be treated like royalty, cardholding patients will get the preferential treatment that many have come to expect. D’Arthenay mirrors this sentiment: “What we’re gearing up to do, in Las Vegas fashion, is treat the medical side as VIPs.”