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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Medical pot unregulated too long in Washington

In 1998, 59 percent of voters in Washington state voted for Initiative 692, which legalized medical marijuana. The state still hasn’t settled on an appropriate regulatory scheme. In 2012, 56 percent of voters passed Initiative 502, which legalized recreational marijuana. It’s now on sale, with very comprehensive regulations.

Unregulated pot is creating headaches for city and county governments, and law enforcement.

Spokane Valley, for instance, has about 10 medical marijuana shops and three recreation pot stores. The city recently declared a moratorium on new medical marijuana businesses while it awaits state legislative action.

That effort got underway Thursday with a hearing on Senate Bill 5887, offered by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center. Her bill would establish dispensaries for non-dry medical marijuana, meaning edibles and liquids. Those who want the smoked product would have to visit a recreational pot store. Medical marjuana store owners would have to be licensed by the state Department of Health and their products tested to ensure safety.

Meanwhile, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, plans to file a bill that would phase out medical marijuana dispensaries and allow recreational pot stores to be certified to sell medical marijuana once they meet requirements and workers are properly trained. Her bill would allow people to grow a small number of plants for medicinal use, and would eliminate collective gardens.

Both measures call for the kind of tightly regulated system established by the Liquor Control Board for recreational marijuana. Both measures would offer sales tax relief for medical marijuana patients, but require them to show a need validated by medical professionals.

Though the bills have different approaches, they are complementary rather than adversarial, say their authors. Myriad details will have to be sorted through, but on the broad strokes both bills have the right objective: harmonizing rules for medical and recreational pot.

Kohl-Welles was behind an attempt to regulate medical marijuana in 2011, but then-Gov. Chris Gregoire gutted the regulatory structure for fear the federal government would intervene. Since then, Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized recreational pot. Three states adopted medical marijuana laws last year, bringing the total to 23 states and the District of Columbia.

One concern with Kohl-Welles’ bill is the provision for home-grown pot, which could raise a red flag with the feds over youth access. The Liquor Control Board delayed rules on recreational edibles to tighten labeling and presentation requirements so products wouldn’t look kid-friendly.

Rivers’ bill could be snagged because there may not be enough locations eligible for medical marijuana shops. This is already a roadblock for recreational pot businesses, given restrictions on where they can be placed. Lawmakers may need to address this conundrum.

Nonetheless, both bills offer a strong starting point on an issue that was forced underground for far too long.

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