OLYMPIA — Washington is looking at allowing medical marijuana patients to place an order and get cannabis delivered to their home.
The state Liquor and Cannabis Board is conducting a study on how to set up and operate a delivery system with an eye to ensuring pot doesn’t wind up in the wrong hands.
Lawmakers requested the analysis in the supplemental state budget approved last month. They want a report with recommendations by Dec. 1.
“It is a way to eliminate one of the barriers between people who need this for their medical condition and their ability to get it,” said Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, who had authored a separate bill for a study.
Ever since Washington voters legalized marijuana in 2012, people have been asking for home delivery, said Brian Smith, a spokesman for the Liquor and Cannabis Board.
It’s not garnered a lot of attention as the state grew its recreational marijuana industry then merged it with the previously unregulated medical marijuana market. Rather, the focal point has been making sure the growing, processing and sale of cannabis is carried out in line with federal guidelines aimed at curbing diversion of product into the black market and away from juveniles.
Home delivery brings a new set of challenges, Smith said.
“It is very difficult to monitor a transaction at someone’s home as compared to a licensed business that we have access to,” he said.
Lawmakers want the agency to study how to develop and implement a system of delivering medical marijuana to qualified patients from properly licensed retailers.
Today, there are 290 retailers in Washington with a state-issued endorsement to sell medical marijuana products. There are about 18,000 active patients, according to the state Department of Health.
Among issues the study must consider are how to verify those receiving the product are registered in the state’s medical marijuana authorization database and what payment methods would be allowed.
With many transactions conducted with cash, the study must look at how to ensure “safe and secure” transporting of products, including delivery vehicle requirements, and how deliveries by retailers operating out of Indian country will be handled.
The Liquor and Cannabis Board is to consult with the health department, industry representatives, law enforcement and local government officials on the report. A public hearing will likely be held to garner input from patients and other interested parties, Smith said.
Kristi Weeks, director of government relations for the Department of Health, said the agency does not oppose a delivery system but “are concerned about diversion to nonpatients or youth.”
“We would want to make certain it is very secured so the product is going only to authorized patients,” she said. “There are ways to ensure to a greater degree that it is going to only the appropriate persons.”
Two cannabis industry groups see the benefit for medical patients. But representatives said they want to be sure those making deliveries are protected from harm and, like the state, don’t want product diverted to non-patients or those under the age of 21.
“We do have a lot of questions,” said Aaron Pickus, spokesperson for the Washington CannaBusiness Association. “Studying this in a thoughtful way is a good next step.”
Lara Kaminsky, executive director of The Cannabis Alliance, said in an email the group is concerned with limited patient access in rural regions with bans or moratoriums in place. There also are patients who may live near a store but because of their mobility challenges cannot easily get there, she noted.
“We would like to see those that have turned to cannabis as a last resort, or who use it in lieu of dangerous opiates, have access to the medicine that helps them,” she wrote.
She also said providing deliveries must be economically viable so that “whomever is granted the ability to provide this service can make it a profitable endeavor” otherwise the program will fail.
Owners of retail stores reached by The Daily Herald said they support home delivery for their patients. Some also are concerned the Liquor and Cannabis Board lacks personnel to adequately enforce existing regulations and would be unable to properly monitor a new home delivery system.
Home delivery is legal in Oregon, California and Nevada.
Oregon, which was the first state to do so, allows a marijuana retailer to make deliveries to any person 21 years and older in their residence, regardless if it is for medical or recreational use. The law defines residence as “a dwelling such as a house or apartment but does not include a dormitory, hotel, motel, bed and breakfast or similar commercial business.”
Though California allows home delivery services, state law also permits local governments to ban them within their jurisdiction if they choose.
In Washington. Kloba started the conversation in January when she put forth a bill on the subject.
But the timing wasn’t great as days earlier U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was rescinding directives from the Obama Administration that had discouraged enforcement of federal marijuana laws in states that had made cannabis legal to grow and sell.
“It threw a big chill into the whole industry and it made our Liquor and Cannabis Board a little more cautious,” Kloba said.
They weren’t opposed, she recalled, but agency officials told her they needed time to figure out how to set it up. Hence the study.
“I felt that was reasonable,” Kloba said. “I do think we will get to a point in the 2019 session that we will bring forward a bill the LCB is comfortable with. Whether my colleagues are comfortable with it is another thing.”