Take care with marijuana laws

Despite a year to research and ponder how to make legal cannabis — medical, recreational and industrial (hemp) — workable in this state, the Legislature is already in the middle of another mess. Some separate 18 cannabis-related bills were introduced in the House early on. Legislators decided that in order to get a better handle on them, they should all be rolled into one big bill, never mind the contradictions, duplications, etc., contained therein.

Reconciling the laws, the proposed bills, and orchestrating a new industry into a viable enterprise is definitely a complicated undertaking, and definitely should not be left to the Liquor Control Board to randomly decide. So much more must go into the decision-making besides visions of pots o’ gold tax receipts. With the systems set up correctly, the taxes will come. But the needs of patients and customers must come first, like any business.

In January, Gov. Jay Inslee put it quite simply and correctly: “The most important thing is to come up with a legally sanctioned, safe system for medical marijuana users.” The good news is, we already have a legally sanctioned, safe system for medical cannabis users. (And to repeat for those who don’t seem to understand: The passage of Initiative 502 to legalize recreational marijuana did not supercede Initiative 962, which legalized medical cannabis, or provide the authority to dismantle its intent.)

The only thing missing from the medical cannabis system is mandatory testing of cannabis, which is required of recreational marijuana, and some sort of taxation. Rather than parroting over and over that the medical system is “largely unregulated,” lawmakers need to examine the existing system, and they will find that many, many medical access points already do test their products, (and would welcome mandatory testing) and more than 300 dispensaries already pay taxes to the state, but no one ever mentions that.

The other “unregulated” aspect of the medical system is the proliferation of “medical dispensaries” in Seattle and Tacoma that are really recreational marijuana shops; some don’t even require people to show their medical marijuana cards. (Which are not as easy to obtain by reputable naturopaths and doctors, despite that one Hempfest article by the Seattle Times in which disreputable naturopaths were pretty much giving cards away.) The real dispensaries are a godsend for patients, who should never have to go to a recreational store for their medicine.

Last month, Congress approved an omnibus spending bill that bars the Justice Department from spending money to “prevent” states from “implementing” medical marijuana laws, and just a few days ago the U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said not only is medical marijuana effective for some medical conditions, but its effectiveness means that a switch in federal drug policy may be on the horizon.

To make it all work, to eradicate the “black market,” the Legislature needs to let cities share in the tax revenue from recreational shops and medical dispensaries. Big cities need to close down the non-medical “medical” dispensaries. (But don’t go overboard, like Tacoma, which wants to close all dispensaries because they don’t meet I-502 guidelines. Again, medical cannabis was never intended to fall under I-502’s rules.)

Lawmakers need to require testing and some taxation of medical cannabis. It needs to fold the collective gardens that supply the medical dispensaries into the system, which would regulate them. Allow everyone, not just patients, to grow some plants at home. (It’s not easy.) And the Legislature must resist playing doctor: Reject the proposal to prevent other medical conditions from being added to the “approved” list of those that can benefit from cannabis. Veterans have been trying for years to get post-traumatic stress disorder listed, for example.

Put patients first, work with the system that already exists, and see if it isn’t a little easier to reconcile the medical and recreational laws than the Legislature imagines.

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