December 3, 2010 in Region

Medical pot industry has new trade group in Wash.

Gene Johnson Associated Press
 
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SEATTLE — The medical marijuana industry in Washington state has a new trade organization.

Organizers say the Washington Cannabis Association opened for business a few weeks ago and now has about two dozen dues-paying members, ranging from individual growers to dispensaries and patient cooperatives. Anyone can join for $100, but full membership is $5,000 a year.

The group has hired a lobbyist to press for changes to the state’s medical marijuana law during the upcoming legislative session.

“We put the association together to make this a legitimate business, where patients don’t have to go in the alley or meet in a parking lot to get their medicines,” said Laura Healy, who helps run the Green Hope Patient Network in Shoreline.

Washington’s medical marijuana law was passed by voters in 1998, but activists and police alike have complained that it’s vague. The law allows patients to present their authorization as a defense if they’re charged with marijuana possession, but that hasn’t stopped some patients from being arrested or having their grow operations raided, and authorities have disagreed about whether cooperative marijuana grows or storefront dispensaries are allowed.

In some cities, including Spokane, the police have shut down marijuana dispensaries, while in others, including Tacoma and Port Angeles, authorities have allowed them to operate.

Philip Dawdy, the association’s spokesman, said its goal is to push for sensible legal changes to regulate the industry and help provide some revenue to the state in terms of licensing fees.

The group is working with Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, of Seattle, on legislation to create a licensing scheme for medical marijuana businesses, Dawdy said.

Organizers are also interested in establishing best practices for the industry, which could range from security measures to guidelines on what kind of signs to use so as to avoid upsetting other residents or businesses in the area, he said. The association might also help the businesses obtain insurance.

“We’re trying to do what any good trade organization does,” Dawdy said.

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