Medical marijuana: Is new regulation in the pot leaves?
by John Stang
Medical marijuana hanging to dry Credit: Tom James/Crosscut
A question has emerged for the Washington state Senate: When will the safety aspects of medical marijuana be regulated?
"I'm concerned about the lack of regulations for patient safety. No bill has been introduced over the years that addresses quality control of what we call medicine," Dawn Darington of Seattle told the Senate Health Care Committee on Tuesday.
"There's no standards set for medical cannabis in any of these bills," said Tammy Ramsay of Hoquiam. "Patients need protecting, not the dispensaries," said Muraco Kyashna-tocha for the Green Buddha Patient Coop of Seattle.
The committee held a hearing on two similar bills by Sens. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, designed to bring the largely unregulated medical marijuana universe in line with the recreational marijuana rules prompted by Washington legalizing it in late 2011. Most of the two bills are the same, but some differences exist. A somewhat similar bill from Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, is working its way through the House.
Both bills put regulation of medical marijuana in the hands of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Both set up registries to track patients authorized to use medical marijuana. Rivers' bill would reduce the current allotment that a person can grow from a total 15 plants to three flowering and three non-flowering plants. Kohl-Welles' bill would set a new limit of three flowering plants and seven non-flowering plants.
Both bills allow either the person using the pot or a designated provider to grow the plants. Kohl-Welles' bill allows a patient to grow plants for himself for herself, plus being allowed to be a designated provider for another patient — essentially allowing a patient to grow two allotments of marijuana. Rivers' bill does not have that clause.
Right now, 10 people can pool their plants in a collective garden. Rivers' bill ends collective gardens on July 30, 2016. Kohl-Welles' bill ends 10-person collective gardens on July 1, 2015, replacing those with collectives that cannot exceed five people. Rivers' bill would route 30 percent of the state's 25 percent tax on retailers to the local governments of the jurisdictions where the tax money is collected. Kohl-Welles' bill would exempt retailers from the 25 percent state tax when they sell medical marijuana to authorized patients.
"These bills in many ways reflect the liquor board's recommendations," said Rick Garza, executive director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
Medical marijuana retailers need a special endorsement from the state. Recreational retailers can also sell medical marijuana if they obtain that endorsement. Or medical marijuana retailers can choose not to sell recreational marijuana. An unanswered question is how medical marijuana retailers will be addressed when the state lists its county-by-county quotas for recreational marijuana retailers.
Several people at Tuesday's hearing objected to any regulation of the medical marijuana universe, or to combining medical and recreational marijuana under the state's emerging regulatory system. They objected to a registry providing patients' names to police who will be verifying state cards provided to patients, contending that would that be a law enforcement tool used to make arrests of patients. And they contended a registry would violate federal patient confidentiality laws.
"The (recreational marijuana) system is not ready for patients yet. … If you close the collective gardens, thousands of people will be out of work (due to a lack of pot to deal with their pain)", said Philip Dawdy of the Washington Cannabis Association.
"Recreation is about having fun and revenue. Medical is about ending suffering,” said Craig Engelking of the organization Health Before Happy Hour.
Nightmare Alabama of Mukilteo said: "My doctor tells me how much Percocet I can take. I don't see why my doctor can't tell me how much cannabis I can grow."
Lawmakers will have to sort that out.