October 22, 2013 in City

Medical marijuana system overhaul draws criticism

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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For links to the recommendations for medical marijuana changes and to the Liquor Control Board’s comment system, go to www.spokesman.com/ spincontrol.

OLYMPIA – A proposal by state agencies to overhaul Washington’s medical marijuana system, restricting access and toughening requirements for patients, faced immediate criticism by some advocates for the drug.

Staff from the state’s Health and Revenue departments, along with the Liquor Control Board which will run the state’s new recreational marijuana industry, released four pages of recommendations Monday that would essentially rewrite a 15-year-old law that allows patients to use and grow the drug if they have with certain medical conditions.

Among the proposals:

• Cutting the amount a patient can have at any one time by 87.5 percent, from 24 ounces to three ounces.

• Banning patients from growing their own marijuana or joining “collective gardens” that can grow it for them, sometimes at no cost.

• Requiring patients to register with the state and get annual examinations by a health care professional to maintain their ability to buy medical marijuana.

• Requiring all purchases to be made at state-licensed recreational marijuana stores, where state taxes add at least 75 percent to the purchase price of the drug. Medical marijuana patients could qualify for an exemption to the state’s sales tax which recreational customers would pay.

Staff from the three agencies, directed by the Legislature this spring to come up with recommendations, said they will “provide patients with an adequate, safe and secure source of medical marijuana.”

“This won’t work,” Steve Sarich, a member of the Cannabis Action Coalition and operator of medical marijuana dispensaries, said. “We are against it.”

The recommendations would tie medical marijuana, a largely unregulated market approved by voters in 1998, to the state’s licensed recreational marijuana system, approved last year. Rules adopted last week for licensing recreational marijuana growers and processors would apply to medical marijuana. Only licensed recreational marijuana stores with a state endorsement could accept medical marijuana authorizations and legally sell to those patients.

But the recreational marijuana system being set up by the Liquor Control Board under Initiative 502 isn’t yet functioning, and some medical marijuana supporters argue it will fail.

If the recommendations become law, they would eliminate more than 300 medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, Sarich estimated, plus thousands of collective gardens and individual grows by patients. The new limits on possession would make it difficult to manufacture certain oils made from plant extracts that are used by some patients, he added.

State and local officials have said they believe the largely unregulated medical marijuana system will lead to federal crackdowns, because marijuana of all types remains illegal under federal law and Jenny Durkan, U.S. district attorney for Seattle, has called the proliferation of dispensaries for patients “untenable.”

Staff members of the three agencies have been working on the recommendations in private meetings for months. The Liquor Control Board will take comments through Nov. 8 and will vote in December on whether to present them to the Legislature in January. At that point legislators or the governor could propose bills that include some or all of the recommendations.

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