Photo by The Dank Depot
The original medical marijuana system in Washington state has been a large proprietor for confusion among lawyers, law enforcement officials and even patients since it was enacted back in 1998. And while this has been a law in the state for so long, it has gone wildly unregulated, causing a large amount of legal grey area that has been contended with ever since.
State Governor Jay Inslee recently signed a new state medical marijuana bill that will effectively overhaul the system that was voted in almost two decades ago. While this newly-approved law is attempting to fix these issues, it’s making a number of people involved in the state’s medical marijuana industry very concerned about the future of their jobs.
The law, dubbed the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, passed on a vote of 41-8. This law essentially bans the existence of medical marijuana dispensaries and collective growing operations in an attempt to clear the legal quagmire that it has caused for so many years. By doing this, the state will combine the unregulated medical system with the highly-regulated recreational marijuana system. The state’s Liquor Control Board will change its title to the Liquor and Cannabis Board and will be in charge of regulating the new legislations.
Under the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, a voluntary state registry that patients can choose to sign up for will be established and legally permitted to possess up to three ounces of dry marijuana, 48 ounces of marijuana infused solids (i.e. edibles), 216 ounces of liquid-form cannabis and 21 grams of cannabis concentrates. Overall, this is around three times the legal amount allowed by the current Washington recreational marijuana laws.
Additionally, the Act outlaws the existence of large “collective gardens,” in which medical marijuana patients pool their resources in order to create a surplus of product that everyone involved can have access to. Previously, these collective grows could include thousands of people and made law enforcement and federal agents extremely nervous, which has resulted in plenty of raids on medical marijuana users’ homes and property.
Instead, patients will only be allowed to have a small cooperative grow that’s limited to just four patients who can grow up to 60 plants that the four of them can share and use as their prescription states.
This also affects the large medical marijuana farms that were supplying the numerous medical dispensaries throughout the state. Now, they will have to apply for and receive the required permits in order to stay in business. Unfortunately, it may not be a simple process. The state is granting priority in licensing to businesses that have proven their merit to the government in the previous system; those who were more likely to pay their business taxes from marijuana on time and in-full, will receive the licensing before those companies that did not.
“The reality is that we have a thriving illicit market,” commented Senator Ann Rivers, R-La Center. “It’s essential that we shut that down. But it is also essential that outpatients had a clean supply and an adequate supply.”
Finally, the new law bans the existence of all medical marijuana dispensaries throughout the state. But, this does not mean that patients will be unable to buy marijuana in the state. Instead, the law states that legally-regulated recreational shops will begin to sell medical-grade cannabis for patients.
“I am committed to ensuring that a system that serves patients well and makes medicine available in a safe and accessible manner, just like we would do for any medicine,” Inslee wrote in his signing message to the Legislature after officially signing the Cannabis Patient Protection Act into law.
Both patients and industry employees alike are concerned that this may not be the best way to deal with the current issues surrounding the state’s medical marijuana program. Many in Washington are very concerned that when medical cannabis is being sold through the recreational dispensaries, then they will be paying more for the medicine that they desperately need to effectively treat their illnesses.
“This is pejorative to patients while being friendly to those who are in the business of patients,” explains Muraco Kyasha-tocha, a former Seattle medical dispensary owner. “There are sincere patients who don’t have any money. They’re cancer patients who are being bankrupted by their treatment.”
The new law does not go into full effect until summer of 2016, but it already seems to be creating quite a few problems for those involved. Hopefully the state will have all of the kinks worked out before it is enacted next year.
Is this an effective solution to the issues of Washington’s unregulated medical marijuana program? Let us know what you think in the comments below.