Medical marijuana patients and cities try to amend pot bill in final week of session.
Medical marijuana users are scared that I-502, 2012's pot legalization measure, may sabotage the existing medical marijuana industry by subsuming medical pot into the broader commercial industry— creating a marketplace that pays no attention to the needs of medical users. For example, they say, it could disincentivize the production of pot-based medical products and CBD, the therapeutic ingredient in pot—as opposed to THC, the Cheech & Chong ingredient.
The pro-medical marijuana bill, sponsored by longtime medical marijuana advocate Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-36, Ballard), directs the Liquor Control Board (which is being renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board) to set up a subcommittee on medical marijuana that will consider allowing medical marijuana growers to build larger pot farms and increase the number of medical marijuana retail licenses.
It passed the senate Saturday, 40-8.
However, the main medical marijuana bill, which passed 34-15, still left medical marijuana advocates uneasy. Medical marijuana users will still get hit with sales taxes on pot, which may be kosher for a recreational product, but not for a medical one. Prescription drugs are exempt from sales tax in Washington state.
Additionally, the bill creates a registry for medical marijuana users, which makes patients very nervous. By signing their names on an official state documents, patients are acknowledging that they're breaking a federal law, which could affect their housing prospects, job options, and the ability to own a gun. And hey, lie about drug use to get a job, and you've also committed a crime.
"The Liquor Control Board has the power to help us or harm us," says Kari Boiter, the Washington state coordinator for the medical pot advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, who uses medical marijuana for a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. "They have the responsibility to use that power in a compassionate way. If they're going to take control of medical marijuana [folding it into the recreational marijuana market], they need to make sure our needs are taken care of."
Boiter, who suffers from chronic pain, says she used to be on a drug cocktail that was costing her $250 a month. "I wasn't functioning, and I had to take more drugs to help me from the drugs I was taking, steroids, Celebrex, sleeping pills." She says her doctor eventually sent her to a medical marijuana dispensary. "I don't have to see a doctor every single month. My costs went way down."
Finally, medical marijuana processors who were already in the business of making products—oils, tinctures, balms—for medical use, may be out of business now that there's a new licensing scheme overrun with applicants who want to sell recreational pot.
Medical marijuana advocates will try to amend the main bill as it makes its way through house during this last week of session, focusing, they say, on getting rid of the tax for medical sales.
The bill was amended to keep all the revenues with the state.
Speaking of the tax—a 25 percent tax at the grow, process, and retail levels adds up to a 75 percent excise tax on recreational pot—the Association of Washington Cities (AWC) is also trying to amend the bill as well.
The tax, expected to generate $190 million over the four years starting in the 2015-17 biennium, would have gone to the state, which would have given a portion of its revenues to counties and cities—30 percent of 25 percent of total state revenues, divided 50-50 between cities and counties, based on where the pot sales took place. So, for example, King County and Seattle stood to do fairly well, given the concentration of pot stores around Seattle.
However, the bill, along the lines of an amendment sponsored by Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond) in committee, was amended on the floor to keep all the revenues with the state.
AWC lobbyist Candice Bock points out that the small crew of officers at the LCB is going to be focused on the larger regulatory issues, leaving local enforcement to cities. "People voted for 502 thinking it would come with a lot of regulation and increased law enforcement," she says, lamenting the loss of dollars at the local level. "Well...."