State’s medical-marijuana system may face new rules
Washington state’s loosely regulated medical-marijuana system now comes under scrutiny from lawmakers who are concerned that it will undercut the new legal recreational-pot market.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Medical marijuana would face new taxes, and patients would be limited to smaller supplies under rules proposed Monday by three state agencies. The rules also would tighten definitions of qualifying conditions and forbid home growing.
The recommendations were requested by state lawmakers trying to reconcile the largely unregulated medical system with the new tightly controlled recreational pot market, which seeks to undercut illicit dealers.
Lawmakers are concerned the medical system, which they see as a fiction to some degree, will be a rival that undercuts the recreational system’s ability to collect tax revenues.
The proposals, which kick off a period of public comment, could dramatically change the medical system, steering patients into new recreational-pot stores, where they could receive a tax exemption.
The recreational system only serves people 21 and over, and allows adults to possess an ounce of weed. The medical system can serve minors and allows patients a 60-day supply of 24 ounces. The recreational system is heavily taxed, the medical system is not. Seattle now has about 200 medical dispensaries, but has been allotted just 21 recreational stores.
Recommendations for medical marijuana, from the state Liquor Control Board and departments of Health and Revenue, include:
• Allow those age 18 to 20 to possess medical marijuana with proper authorization, and require those 17 and younger to have consent from a parent or guardian. Require authorizing doctors to have frequent exams and follow-ups with child patients.
• Establish a mandatory registry for all patients, maintained by the Department of Health. Make it available to law enforcement and Department of Revenue, but exempt from public-disclosure information that could identify patients.
• Define “debilitating” and “intractable pain” — two of the most common qualifying conditions — in a way that can be objectively assessed and evaluated.
• Reduce the amount a patient can possess from 24 ounces, a 60-day supply, to three ounces, a one-week supply, with additional limits for pot-infused products, such as edibles or tinctures.
• Eliminate home growing and collective gardens.
• Require labeling to include levels of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient, and cannabinoids, the more analgesic chemicals in marijuana.
• Create a single licensing system for medical and recreational producer and processor licenses. Allow only approved recreational stores to sell to qualified medical patients.
• Use the same tax structure as the recreational system — 25 percent on sales at each of the producer, processor and retail levels — but exempt state and local retail taxes for qualified medical patients.
Kari Boiter, a current patient, graded the recommendations as a C-minus, or D-plus.
“It’s going to make it a lot more difficult for patients to get their medicine,” said Boiter, who is active in Americans for Safe Access, the largest national advocacy group for medical marijuana.
Boiter, 33, has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects skin, joints and blood-vessel walls. But that isn’t a qualifying condition under state law. She’s authorized for medical marijuana because of intractable pain and was taking prescription painkillers before, which she said made her “highly dysfunctional.”
Boiter said she wants a regulated, licensed system for medical marijuana and she’s not opposed to close monitoring for child patients. She’s also in support of basic business taxes on commercial medical storefronts. But she disagrees with a number of recommendations.
She argues that any registry should be voluntary because federal law enforcement may have access to it. She maintains that the current amounts patients can possess were approved by state officials after a public process and shouldn’t be changed. And she believes that recreational-level taxes at the producer and processor levels would just be passed on to patients.
“And where’s all the research,” she asks, “showing all these patients are bogus?”
Boiter said she would support something like SB 5073, a bill that would have more tightly regulated the medical system, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Chris Gregoire in 2011.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, was the primary sponsor of that bill. Kohl-Welles has vowed to be involved in changes to the medical system next year.
She is in China and responded by email that she had mixed thoughts after a quick reading. She liked pesticide disclosure, tighter rules for authorizers and access for qualifying minors.
But she’d prefer a voluntary registry for tax exemptions and home-growing by patients or designated providers. “Collective gardens should be phased out,” she wrote.
Nov. 8 is the deadline for written comments on the recommendations. Final recommendations are due to the Legislature by Jan. 1.
Recommendations call for a new medical system by Jan. 1, 2015.
Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or firstname.lastname@example.org