Since the passage of I-502, the state has been quiet about what they intend to do with the existing medical marijuana laws. Yesterday, that changed. Ben Livingston has the details:
This afternoon the state’s medical cannabis workgroup—comprised of the liquor board, health department, revenue department, and the governor’s office—released their formal recommendations, and they are just as drastic as we initially revealed.
The basic idea is that the voter-approved medical cannabis law would be mostly scrapped, and patients who are accepted into a proposed government registry would be allowed tax
deductionsexemptions on pot, which could only be purchased at I-502 stores. Among the recommendations:
1. Eliminate patient home growing rights
2. Eliminate collective gardens
3. Eliminate medical dispensaries that don’t comply with I-502
4. Eliminate the affirmative defense for pot patients
5. Create a state-funded patient registry program
6. Require health care professionals to register patients with the state
7. Forbid doctors from running a medical cannabis specific business
8. Remove the right to petition for new medical marijuana conditions
9. Reduce patient possession amounts from 24 ounces to 3 ounces
10. Allow I-502 stores to sell reduced-tax pot to registered patients
Not all of these proposals are bad, but on the whole, this is a big step backwards. We’re moving from a decade and a half of marijuana law reform that carved out exceptions in order to protect the sick and vulnerable to new system that eliminates those exceptions in order to protect government coffers. It’s exactly what the most cynical among us thought the state would do, and if they follow though, it’ll be inexcusable, lazy policy.
A big part of what drives this move is the fact that medical marijuana has been a poorly regulated mess in this state for much of the 15 years it’s been allowed. Dispensaries were never formally legalized, but entrepreneurs would continually come up with ways to stay just within the law. The lack of a registry system often left police and prosecutors frustrated at their inability to differentiate between valid medical users and regular recreational users. And it was always obvious that many people were getting medical authorizations who clearly didn’t have a medical need for the drug.
The state’s reaction to this mess appears to be, fuck it – just blow it up. But this is a mistake. Jonathan Martin at the Seattle Times has some good alternate suggestions for the state, especially this one:
It’s surprisingly hard to grow really good marijuana. Washington’s medical marijuana law recognized that from the beginning, allowing a caregiver to grow for a sick patients. The Legislature should absolutely preserve the ability for patients – real, legitimate patients – to grow their own, have a caregiver grow for them, or allow them to join 10-patient, 45-plant collective gardens. Any grow should be registered with the Department of Health, because police need to know if they’re walking into a legitimate or a black market grow.
This idea would be impossible under the rules proposed above. I think the lack of a home grow provision in I-502 was a mistake, but eliminating home grow even for patients is unthinkable. It certainly comes off as an attempt by the state to maximize tax revenue, rather than an attempt to protect public safety.
A lot of patients will bristle at the idea of having to register collective gardens, but it’s certainly preferable to having them banned. The current law is being blatantly abused in a way that almost no other state has seen. Dispensaries in this state aren’t legal. All those storefronts with green crosses everywhere are supposed to be limited to 10 patients. They get around that limit by constantly rotating who those 10 patients are as customers come in and out all day. Or by ignoring that requirement altogether.
One other requirement I’d add to this is that gardens shouldn’t be allowed to advertise or have storefronts. They should be private entities. Over time, perhaps in coordination with medical facilities, these gardens can work to develop very specific strains that work particularly well for certain ailments – and do so in a cost-efficient way.
People are concerned that the “medical excuse” patients will still find ways to avoid the high taxes of I-502 regulated stores. I’m not buying it. I suspect the vast majority of those folks will end up being unable to match the variety and quality of recreational pot sold in the regulated stores and be content to pay a little more for the privilege. But the regulated stores might not cater to folks with very specific ailments like epilepsy or MS, where the THC content might be too low to get people stoned. Those folks need to have the option to grow their own, or band together with others in a garden.
For years, we had a system that protected (well, tried to protect) medical marijuana users while recreational users continued to remain outside the law. What the state is proposing here could potentially turn that on its head – moving to a system that caters to recreational users while leaving those most in need with fewer options.