OKLAHOMA CITY — Brandon Walker decided on a unique marketing strategy to promote his new Guthrie dispensary — hosting a patient drive.
Through a mutual friend, Walker found a Muskogee-area doctor who was willing to set up shop in a private room at One15 Green Dispensary. The doctor charged patients $85 for a consult, and 37 left with the physician recommendation needed to obtain a medical marijuana card.
When the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority first began issuing patient licenses a year ago, Walker said he struggled to find any doctor willing to give such a recommendation. One of the first 50 Oklahomans to receive a patient card, Walker said he had to travel to Tulsa and pay $200 to see a physician.
“Not a lot of patients have a lot of money like that to just spend on getting a medical card, so the cheaper I can get a doctor to do it, the better I feel about it,” Walker said.
In the past year, a new “cottage industry” has popped up in the state, said Wes Glinsmann, executive director of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.
Newspaper advertisements and signs lining roadways promise quick, convenient access to licensed medical providers willing to issue recommendations. Even some telemedicine services are cashing in.
“A number of physicians are much more willing and interested in doing these kinds of services (and) have been able to create a kind of market for themselves, if you will,” he said. “The downside of that is that a lot of these patients are going that route as opposed to having discussions with their normal primary care physician and things like that.”
As more Oklahoma doctors become more comfortable with idea of medical marijuana, Glinsmann said it’s become relatively easy for an interested patient to get a license.
As of mid-August, more than 168,000 Oklahomans had obtained a patient license, according to the Medical Marijuana Authority.
About 4 percent of Oklahomans now have a medical marijuana license, said Chip Paul, a medical marijuana proponent and chair of Oklahomans for Health.
Oklahoma ranks No. 1 in the country in percentage of medical patients, and No. 3 in overall patient count. Only California and Michigan now have more patients, he said.
“No one has ever hit 50,000 patients before in their first year,” he said.
Paul said a lot of dispensaries are now partnering with doctors. It’s also getting cheaper to get recommendations.
“It was a little annoying to see some of these places charging people, gouging people $250 per recommendation,” Paul said.
Walker, the dispensary owner, said business has been good.
He’s already planning his next patient drive Sept. 21.
Stecklein covers the Oklahoma Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.