Washington should severely cut the amount of marijuana that medical patients can possess, require them to register with the state and have annual medical checkups, and pay most of the same taxes as recreational users, a state agency recommended Wednesday.
In a move sure to draw fire from the medical marijuana community, the state Liquor Control Board released recommendations it will send to next year’s Legislature as the state tries to blend two sets of laws on the drug.
The board is authorized by Initiative 502 to regulate recreational marijuana use and is currently accepting applications for businesses that want to grow, process or sell the drug to adults for private use. The board has no authority over medical marijuana, which was approved by voters in 1998 and is largely unregulated.
As part of the 2013-15 general operating budget earlier this year, the Legislature directed the board to work with the state departments of Health and Revenue to study the two systems and come up with recommendations to integrate them. Legislators will still have to pass bills that would include some or all of the recommendations, and get them signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
The board’s recommendations include:
• Requiring medical marijuana users to register with the state Health Department every year and be examined annually by a designated medical provider. The registry would issue cards that identify the patients, which would be available to law enforcement agencies and the Revenue Department.
• Require the Health Department to define the conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed and not allow medical professionals to have a practice that consists primarily of authorizing marijuana use.
• Eliminate collective gardens, which are currently used by groups of medical marijuana patients to grow the drug when individuals aren’t able to do it. Individuals would still be able to grow their own medical marijuana, or designate someone else to grow for them, but the number of plants they could have at any one time would be reduced to six – three that are “flowering” and thus have high levels of the active ingredients, and three that are ”nonflowering.”
• Eliminate medical marijuana dispensaries. All sales would be made through retail outlets controlled by the Liquor Board.
• Sharply reduce the amount of marijuana a patient could have at any one time. Currently the law allows a medical marijuana patient to have up to 24 ounces of usable marijuana. The Liquor Board recommends dropping that to three ounces, which would be three times the amount a recreational marijuana user can possess.
• Require medical marijuana users to pay the same excise taxes as recreational marijuana users, which involves a 25 percent tax as the drug moves from producer to processor, another 25 percent from processor to retailer, and another 25 percent from retailer to customer. Recreational marijuana users also would pay a state and local sales tax on that purchase; medical marijuana users with cards from the Health Department would be exempt from sales tax.