Until recently, if a customer walked into a shop like Dockside looking for pain relief after a surgery, they’d have to play a little game of make-believe. The budtender, forbidden under legalization laws from claiming a shop’s wares have specific medical benefits, might recommend something that is very relaxing, but certainly not sedative, or any of the state’s other proscripted words. Marijuana privileges were granted to retail shops only, swallowing the dispensary industry and effectively eliminating access to medical marijuana.
“It could get awkward,” says Dockside cofounder Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, since helping someone in need meant negotiating around language barriers they wouldn’t face in a dispensary.
This inability to help would-be medical consumers bothered Velasco-Schmitz after he closed his dispensary, Dockside Co-op, and opened two recreational shops in 2014—so much that he would eat the newly imposed state tax for people he knew to be patients—a small gesture of compassion.
When the state Liquor and Cannabis Board began its medical endorsement program in July 2016—a system that allows registered patients to buy medicinal products from endorsed shops—Velasco-Schmitz didn’t hesitate to sign up, even with the added costs of employee training and comparatively expensive medical-grade cannabis. Dockside’s SoDo and Shoreline locations join more than 30 recreational shops in King County that now carry a medical endorsement—a step in the right direction, says Velasco-Schmitz. But until the regulatory constraints and production costs become more manageable, “those who need the product instead of want the product” might still be left behind in this new market.