Negotiating the paperwork to get a medical marijuana card in Washington, D.C., may be difficult for someone who is struggling with illness or simply not adept at filling out forms. Finding a doctor who will recommend marijuana can be even harder.
This is the niche where Medical Marijuana Advocates Group fits, with a network of doctors who are able to recommend marijuana where appropriate and counselors trained to assist patients with the process of getting a card. Helping the sick is noble work. From a business and investment perspective, however, the sleeper story may be in the growth of the physician network.
The Patient’s Side of the Equation
According to Shawnta Hopkins, Founder and CEO of MMJAG, her organization is responsible for having enrolled nearly 80 percent of the more than 3,000 medical marijuana patients in the District. The group looks forward to moving into Maryland when the medical system becomes operational in 2016. “We just want to make sure that every patient has access to a doctor and safe, affordable and legal medicine.”
Among the most vulnerable patients MMJAG and its subsidiary DC Cannabis Cards work with are veterans, ex-offenders, those with debilitating conditions like Crohn’s disease and the elderly, who may be unaware of or reluctant to explore the potential for marijuana treatment. Hopkins sees a large part of the organization’s mission as patient and family education. “Many of these patients have been self-medicating for years with far more destructive drugs,” she added.
The process begins with an online registration for an appointment and payment of a $25 fee. The patient is then notified of the date, time and location of a doctor’s appointment, at which a co-pay is due. Reduced fees are available for those who qualify.
The examining physician assesses the patient’s medical condition and, if appropriate, will send a marijuana recommendation to The District of Columbia Department of Health. Thereafter, the patient submits an application for a card.
The application requires several pieces of supporting documentation including photos, several forms of proof of address, and the Physician Recommendation form. MMJAG assists patients, as necessary, in filling out and filing the forms. Patients generally receive a card within two to three weeks. This is what it takes to visit one of the three operating dispensaries in D.C.
The Doctor’s Side of the Formula
MMJAG currently works with a network of 20 doctors, 14 of whom are also licensed in Maryland. That network will likely expand as physicians become more aware of cannabis’ therapeutic potential, and more comfortable with their own Department of Health registration requirements. With the rollout of Maryland’s medical marijuana program, the number of patients and the number of recommending physicians can be expected to grow exponentially.
It is in the development of the physician network that the greater ancillary business potential may lie. Pharmaceutical companies have known this for years. The math analogy breaks down here because the situation is really three dimensional.
Dispensaries, with experience on the front lines of medical marijuana, certainly have a symbiotic relationship with patients, cultivators and recommending doctors.
Organized doctors can also be a powerful force in medical research, development, the establishment of professionally recognized practices and procedures, as well as political advocacy. The creation of networks of any kind suggests business opportunity. In an industry that is growing as quickly as medical marijuana, there could be considerable unmined potential from the development of these multifaceted relationships.