Washington State Just Made It Much Harder For Patients To Access Medical Marijuana

Photo by Gordon Swanson.

 
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by Aaron Kase

on April 15, 2015

Washington State is updating its nearly two-decade-old medical marijuana laws. The state legislature Tuesday approved a bill to bring the standards for medical distribution in line with the more stringent regulations for the recreational pot industry. As a result, it will likely become less convenient for patients to acquire their medicine.

Under the new law, medical patients will be allowed to possess up to three ounces of buds and grow six plants in their home, down from 24 ounces and 15 plants under the old rules. The bill will also sharply limit the amount of marijuana that people can grow in cooperative gardens.

The measure additionally includes a voluntary database for patients, who will be allowed to possess larger amounts of weed and get a tax break on purchases if they sign up.

A revamped state Liquor and Cannabis Board will now regulate medical distributors and grant licenses to those it deems worthy of staying in business. It is expected to roll out the new system by July 2016, leaving the fate of currently operating cooperatives in limbo.

Governor Jay Inslee indicated that he would sign the bill. “We look favorably on what they’ve done,” his spokesperson said to the Seattle Times, although he could still line-item veto certain measures.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Washington State since 1998. In 2012, voters passed a ballot initiative to legalize it for recreational use as well. However, the rules for non-medical retailers were much more strict, leaving vendors at what they thought was a competitive disadvantage. Officials also noted that many medical dispensaries were entirely unregulated and untaxed under the old regime.

Lawmakers patted themselves on the back for this step at reconciling the dual systems. “No one has taken the idea of medical marijuana lightly,” Rep. Eileen Cody said to the Seattle Times. “What we’re trying to make sure is that we have a medical-marijuana system that fits with recreational, is safe and provides the safety mechanisms for our patients that recreational enjoys. We also want to make sure that everyone has access.”

Other legislators weren’t as happy. “I’m concerned we have limited it too far,” Rep. Ed Orcutt told the Times. “We have limited it to the point to where some of those people aren’t going to be able to get the right form or the right variety for what they need.”

The bottom line is that it will become harder for patients to access home-grown cannabis because of the restrictions on collective gardens, so they will be more likely to buy from dispensaries — and therefore pay taxes, if they don’t sign themselves up for the database.

The legislature is next looking to revamp the taxes on marijuana so everyone pays a flat 30 percent at the point-of-sale, instead of the current three-tier system. The state also wants to create a license for marijuana research and discourage municipalities from banning dispensaries.

Seattle is also exploring enacting its own series of regulations on pot shops within city limits. “Seattle now has clear guidance from the State as the City of Seattle develops its own regulatory framework to maintain a safe and legal marijuana market in our city,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a press release. “It is important to note that more needs to be done in future legislation to protect the privacy and rights of medical marijuana patients.”