OLYMPIA – Washington’s two legal marijuana systems – an older one for medical patients and a new one for “recreational use” by adults – may remain separate at least for another year.
Eleventh-hour negotiations on proposals to merge the two broke down Thursday, and legislators said it was unlikely they could be revived in the waning hours of the session. (Update: The Legislature did adjourn without voting on medical marijuana bills.)
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said House Republicans wanted a portion of the tax money to be collected from the newly licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores to go to local governments. Initiative 502, which voters approved in 2012, sends all marijuana tax revenue to the state. Without that change, the proposal to merge the two systems had “no hope, no how,” he said.
Cities and counties around the state have imposed moratoriums on allowing new medical marijuana businesses within their borders, but Condotta said those objections would disappear if they were promised revenue to help pay for the extra law enforcement many local officials think will be needed when the businesses open.
Condotta held out hope that a separate bill, calling for a group to study ways to improve and merge the two marijuana systems, would pass before the Legislature adjourned.
Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said the proposed change to send some tax money to local governments didn’t appear to have the votes to pass. It needed a two-thirds supermajority because it amended the 2012 initiative.
The study bill wasn’t going to pass without the larger bill dealing with the merger, she said, but Gov. Jay Inslee could issue an executive order for a study that would give the Legislature a starting point next year.
Ezra Eickmeyer of the Washington Cannabis Association, a group that represents medical marijuana patients, accused local jurisdictions of “holding the initiative hostage” for tax money. But merging the two systems and closing the current medical marijuana dispensaries without some agreement to allow marijuana stores all over the state meant some patients would have trouble getting the medical version of the drug, he said.
Without controls on the growing number of medical marijuana growers and dispensaries, Cody said, the state could have trouble with the federal government, which still considers the drug illegal for all uses. “The feds may come in and start closing some of them down,” she said.
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