OLYMPIA — Medical marijuana patients would have to register with the state and pay some taxes on the products they buy from state-licensed stores, under major rewrites of the state pot laws that passed the House Friday evening.
Cities and counties, which are currently cut out of the tax revenue that legal marijuana generates, would get a cut of some of the taxes. But they couldn’t ban marijuana businesses without a public vote.
Supporters said the changes would rein in the state’s unregulated medical marijuana system. Opponents said they could leave patients behind in an effort to control and tax an viable alternative to expensive prescription drugs.
The Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which passed on a bipartisan 60-36 vote, would put limits on the state’s medical marijuana market, which has been largely unregulated since voters approved it in 1998.
Patients would register in a state database, and would be exempt from some of the excise taxes placed on their marijuana, which would be sold at stores regulated by the same agency that now regulates and licenses recreational marijuana. The law would do away with medical marijuana dispensaries, but allow individuals to grow and process their own pot, or form small collectives to share it.
“We don’t actually know how many patients we have,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, who wrote parts of the bill. “Every other state has a registry.”
But the registry was among the most hotly contested parts of the bill, although efforts to change it were unsuccessful. “You shouldn’t have to sign up in a registry with personal information… to get the treatment to save your life,” Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane Valley, argued.
A separate tax bill revises the tax system set up for recreational marijuana under Initiative 502, which voters approved in 2012. By registering with the state, patients will be able to buy their marijuana without paying the excise taxes with will be placed on all pot sold in state licensed stores.
But they will still have to pay sales taxes, which some opponents argued was unfair in state that doesn’t impose a sales tax on pharmaceutical drugs.
They can also grow it themselves, to avoid the taxes and have complete control of the drug they use, Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Pierce County, said. Making the commercial growers test medical marijuana, which the state already requires for recreational marijuana, will ensure better quality than is found at some dispensaries, he added.
I-502 would also change in terms of the way taxes are collected and distributed. The excise taxes on growers and processors would be replaced with a single excise tax paid by recreational purchasers at the store. The initiative didn’t allow any money to go to local governments, and some cities and counties have banned marijuana businesses, in part because they fear the added cost of law enforcement. The bill would give them a small portion of the tax revenues each year, based on sales. But it would limit their ability to restrict marijuana businesses: any local ban would have to be approved by voters.
Debate over the two bills was among the most impassioned in the House so far this session, and often had unusual coalitions of conservative Republicans and liberal Democrats joining to support or oppose a particular bill.
“As we go down this road, we’re leaving more and more marijuana patients behind,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, who said he opposed legalizing medical marijuana in 1998 but now worries the state is cracking down on legitimate patients.
Both must now go to the Senate, which has approved different changes to the medical marijuana system but hasn’t voted on the tax changes.
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