As we know, many states have now legalized the sale and use of marijuana for medical purposes.  Often, advocates of medical marijuana have worked for many years in order to see their state’s voters or legislature make access to cannabis the law of the land.  This doesn’t mean that patients will be able to purchase marijuana any time soon, however.  The wait can be years.

As Marijuana Business Daily reports here: First Florida CBD Dispensary Ready for Launch, Florida’s first cannabis dispensary will open two years after the state legalized the drug.

In Maryland, medical marijuana was legalized in 2014; cultivation licenses are due to be issued this summer, per this article from The Washington Post (registration required): Growing medical marijuana could mean big business in Maryland. Here’s who wants in.

Arizona, Connecticut and New York also took about two years to open dispensaries from the time their legislation was passed.  That seems like quite a while until you look at Rhode Island (7 years) or Vermont (6 years).  For a full listing of states that have legalized and the legislation involved, see the chart here: 25 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC.

So why the wait?  In part, it’s because the state generally approves the production and sale of medical marijuana.  It’s not just another commodity; those who wish to sell it must get licenses and those who wish to purchase it must often be registered in a state database.  It takes time to set that up.  And let’s not forget that this becomes a subject for regulation, and the wheels of regulatory agencies grind exceedingly fine and exceedingly slowly.  If you are wondering why states that are just now legalizing marijuana can’t just adapt another state’s regulatory scheme, you have to consider that each state has different agencies administering the production, sale and licensing of marijuana, as well as different enforcement mechanisms and different tax regimes to take into account.

Obviously, for those seeking cannabis for medical reasons, the wait is frustrating.  On the other hand, it’s not a bad thing for states to be careful in how they set up these systems – this is new territory after all.  Delaware had an on-again, off-again system: first, state-run “compassion centers” which distributed medical marijuana to registered users were set up, then those were closed in light of communications with the Department of Justice, and finally, a new compassion center opened last year.

So when you see voter referendums or state legislatures taking action on medical marijuana, just realize that legalization is only the first step on what seems to be a long road to availability.