Washington: Governor Signs Bill Reducing Marijuana Taxes, Loosens Pot Zoning

I-502

By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

A bill simplifying the tax scheme for marijuana was signed into law by Washington Governor Jay Inslee on Tuesday. HB 2136, which the Legislature approved last week, also significantly loosens the rules on buffer zones that have kept recreational I-502 marijuana shops away from many dense commercial areas.

As originally approved by voters, I-502 taxed recreational marijuana at three tiers: producers (growers), processors (curing), and retail. Under the new scheme, the three-level tax system has been collapsed into one 37 percent point-of sale tax, reports Bryan Cohen at Capitol Hill Seattle. According to Ian Eisenberg, proprietor of Capitol Hill recreational marijuana shop Uncle Ike's, his customers won't see much of a change in pricing due at 37 percent tax.

I-502 originally stated recreational marijuana stores can't be located within 1,000 feet of parks, schools, and other public gathering places. Localities could soon have the power to bring that buffer down to 100 feet under HB 2136

The 1,000-foot buffer greatly restricted permitted locations for marijuana retail; it was written as an attempt to placate federal officials, who have released guidelines under which the Obama Administration won't go after state-legal pot shops, including just such a buffer zone. There are specific penalties for selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of schools under federal sentencing guidelines.

Medical marijuana patients who choose to become part of a state registry, created in a separate bill approved by the Legislature, would still be charged the 37 percent tax, but got a tiny bone thrown to them by being exempted from the 6.5 percent state sales tax.

One provision removed from the final bill would have required voter approval inside any municipalities seeking to ban I-502 recreational marijuana shops.

Marijuana speakeasies, drive-throughs, and vending machines are all explicitly banned in the new law.

For patients, the new regulations basically mean collective gardens will be gone by this time next year -- with no clear replacement on the horizon, since half the municipalities in the state have already banned recreational marijuana stores.

Even patients with access to 502 shops will usually be paying twice to three times as much as they had paid in the medical marijuana collectives which are being shut down by SB 5052, a sweeping overhaul which purportedly "folded in" medical marijuana into the recreational pot system.

Limited home grows of four plants will still be allowed for patients only (no recreational home grows are permitted under Washington's anemic brand of marijuana "legalization.") Patients who choose to become part of a state registry can grow six plants instead of just four.