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Medical marijuana laws in Washington state have undergone a great deal of change in the last few months, but not all of the approved measures go into effect immediately. Following the second of two reform bills being signed into law last week, medical marijuana patients will likely find themselves facing what seems like an entirely new and in some ways worse system than previously existed. Patients will need to organize and take steps to improve the law in the 2016 legislative session to improve the situation.
In April Governor Inslee signed SB 5052, which merged the medical marijuana program with the recreational system created under Initiative 502. The big picture is that exclusively medical marijuana dispensaries will no longer exist by next summer. Most medical dispensaries are expected to close down completely, leaving fewer options for medical marijuana patients to find their medicine. Patients growing limits were made more strict. Further, medical marijuana patients will need to join a patient registry or face higher taxes and face more restrictions on the amount of cannabis they are allowed to possess. Joining a registry remains problematic given the threat of future federal law enforcement actions.
Last week, Governor Inslee signed HB 2136 which included eliminating the current three-tier tax structure and replacing it with a single excise tax of 37% at the point of sale. This represents a significant increase in the tax liability of medical marijuana patients, even once they join the registry.
It’s a complicated political story, but recreational cannabis store complaints of unfair competition from medical providers were motivators. Oddly, Washington State announced the tax revenue from the recreational system was more than double their original projections. With business generating far more sales than reportedly expected, it’s unclear if the financial basis for these reforms holds up to scrutiny.
On July 24th many elements of SB 5052 come in to effect. In July of next year Sections 12, 19, 20, 23 through 26, 31, 35, 40, and 49, will become effective. At that date at doctors authorizing cannabis will begin having to use a designated form developed by the State’s Department of Health that discloses a significant amount of personal information about the patients and the collective garden provisions of the current law will be repealed and replaced with more restrictive guidelines.
Where Does That Leave Us?
With a lot of work to do. Medical marijuana patients need to make their voices heard more than ever. Calls, visits, emails and letters to state legislators, Governor Inslee, local politicians and the newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Board need to be come early and often or else patient concerns aren’t going to be prioritized. Americans for Safe Access will continue monitoring regulatory and legislative developments and try create solutions that work for patients, but as always nothing can replace the impact of direct citizen action.
Although we’ll have to wait until 2016 to get better legislation on taxation, privacy and less restrictive growing rules the groundwork for future change starts right now.