Washington: Legislature OKs Gutting Medical Marijuana Program Under Legalization


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The Washington Legislature on Tuesday approved a bill essentially gutting the state's medical marijuana program, sending to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee a bill that eliminates medicinal cannabis dispensaries now that the state's recreational market is nominally in place.

The Senate concurred with changes made to the bill in the House last week, then voted 41-8 to send it on to the Governor for his expected signature, reports Beth Nakamura at The Oregonian.

Republican Senator Ann Rivers of La Center claimed the state could "no longer wait" to "reconcile" the medical and recreational markets, effectively forcing patients to pay the much higher prices in recreational pot stores, where employees are forbidden to even mention the medicinal applications of cannabis.

"The reality is that we have a thriving illicit market," Rivers said, ignoring the fact that medical marijuana collectives have been legal in the state since 1998. "It's essential that we shut that down.

"But it was also essential that our patients had a clean supply and an adequate supply," Rivers said, in a statement that is dripping with irony given the fact that her bill does neither.

Among many other provisions, Senate Bill 5052 creates a database of patients. Oddly, recreational marijuana users don't have to be part of any database, and neither do, for instance, OxyContin users. This provision places medical marijuana patients alongside child molesters in having to register with the state.

Changes made in the House including making the registry voluntary rather than mandatory, as it was in the original Senate version. But unregistered patients won't be allowed to have the same amounts of cannabis or enjoy the tax breaks that registered patients will.

Patients who enter into the database and have an authorization will be allowed to have three dry ounces of marijuana, 48 ounces of marijuana-infused solids, 216 ounces of liquid (such as cannabis-infused soda pop) and 21 grams of concentrates. Registered patients can also grow up to six plants at home, unless authorized to grow more by a health professional.

Patients who don't register but are considered qualified have the same limit as recreational marijuana users, one ounce. Such patients will be allowed to grow up to four plants.

Recreational marijuana store owners have complained about the competition represented by medical marijuana dispensaries, which usually have better products at lower prices. Rather than to up their own game -- which admittedly would be difficult under the onerous, bureaucratic regulations imposed by I-502 -- they chose to lobby the Legislature to shut their competition down by casting dispensaries as dangerous, unregulated enterprises.

SB 5052 also cracks down on collective gardens, eliminating the current structure starting July 1, 2016, but allowing four-patient "cooperatives." These would be limited to 60 plants, and locations would have to be registered with the state and couldn't be within one mile of licensed I-502 recreational pot retailers.

State registries understandably make patients nervous, as the current policy of the federal government to allow states to implement medical marijuana laws could change after the next election.

SB 5052 renames the Washington State Liquor Control Board to the Liquor and Cannabis Board. The board will adopt a supposedly "merit-based" system for granting licenses to some existing collective gardens and dispensaries. Among the factors considered will be whether applicants previously operated a collective, had a business license or paid business taxes. Preference will be given to applicants who already had applied for a recreational marijuana license prior to July 1, 2014, with second priority going to those who worked for or owned a collective garden prior to Jan. 1, 2013.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) said that while she agreed the medical and recreational system needed to be aligned, she voted no on the bill "because I need to make that point for the patients. I'm worried about the patients who are dependent upon the places they know well," she said.

"We will punish those legislators who screwed us, but the first people we will go after are the 502 businesses who were responsible for convincing these crooked legislators to do this," said activist Steve Sarich of the Cannabis Action Coalition. "I will throw a party every time one of these businesses closes down.

"We don't have to wait until the next election to screw the people who screwed the patients -- we can start that right away," Sarich said.

Graphic: Steve Sarich