OLYMPIA – A major revision to the state’s marijuana laws, blending the medical and recreational systems and setting up a voluntary registry for adult patients, overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Tuesday and was sent to Gov. Jay Inslee.
Changes to the two systems – the heavily regulated recreational pot and the largely unregulated medical marijuana – drew some of the largest and most vocal crowds as it worked its way through committee hearings over the last three months. Some patients said they would be afraid to register as a user of a drug that is still illegal under federal law. Others urged legislators not to disrupt their access to strains of marijuana that were successfully treating pain, epilepsy, cancer or post-traumatic stress disorder when pharmaceuticals have failed them.
New recreational marijuana entrepreneurs that started growing and processing operations or opened stores said they were being put at a disadvantage by medical dispensaries that didn’t pay the same taxes or meet the same strict growing and testing requirements.
The Cannabis Patient Protection Act passed on a 41-8 vote. It changes the tax structure for marijuana, allows recreational shops to obtain licenses to sell medical versions and gives medical patients exemptions from some taxes if they register and show their “recognition card.”
The cards must be obtained after an examination by a health professional for a qualifying medical condition, which must be renewed annually for adults and every six months for minors.
Minors could not be in control of their marijuana, however; it would have to be under the control of a parent or guardian.
After the vote, the bill’s sponsor said that the state could no longer wait to reconcile the medical and recreational markets.
“The reality is that we have a thriving illicit market,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. “It’s essential that we shut that down. But it was also essential that our patients had a clean supply and an adequate supply.”
The Liquor Control Board – to be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board – was given the job of licensing medical marijuana businesses that are currently unregulated.
Voters gave the board authority over the recreational marijuana system when they approved Initiative 502 in 2012, and the limits the board placed on the amount of land that can grow the plant and the number of stores that can sell it would be increased to handle the demand from patients.
Medical marijuana dispensaries could apply for licenses and would get preference if they have a record of obtaining required business licenses and paying taxes. Their products would have to be tested to be free of pesticides, mold and other contaminants as recreational pot now is.
Medical patients could grow varying amounts of the plant themselves, depending on their condition, and could form small cooperatives. But collective gardens that serve large numbers of patients would be banned.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said the provisions that allow different numbers of plants for different patients were confusing, and she worried that some in rural areas will not immediately have access to medical marijuana.
“It’s going to work out in the long run, but I’m worried about the patients,” said Kohl-Welles, who has been a leader in marijuana legislation for some 20 years.
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