Protest calls for separate oversight of recreational, medicinal pot

Staff writerJune 19, 2013 

The agency overseeing Washington’s new recreational marijuana market might also be tasked with crafting new regulations for medical cannabis in the state — an idea that drew opposition Wednesday from demonstrators at the state Capitol.

Draft versions of both the House and Senate budgets would require the state Liquor Control Board to develop new recommendations for how to tax and license medical marijuana, and to deliver those policy recommendations to lawmakers by January.

State officials have expressed concern that the successful implementation of Initiative 502, the state’s new recreational marijuana law, could be undermined by the state’s less-regulated medical marijuana market.

But lawmakers haven’t approved any legislation so far that would set new taxes for medical marijuana or otherwise curtail the state’s medical cannabis law – first approved in 1998.

“We have said that the medical marijuana market is a challenge to the success of the recreational market, the reason being that a certain percentage of people are buying it through the medical marijuana market for recreational purposes,” said Brian E. Smith, spokesman for the state Liquor Control Board. “They would be competing with the recreational market, which is heavily taxed and highly regulated.”

A group of about 250 medical marijuana users rallied Wednesday at the Capitol to oppose the Liquor Control Board intervening in the state’s medical marijuana market, saying people who use the drug as part of a medical treatment plan shouldn’t be treated the same as those that use it recreationally.

“Cannabis used as a medicine needs only be controlled by the patients, doctors, et cetera,” said JoAnna McKee, a medical marijuana patient from West Seattle. “This is a medical situation — it’s not a liquor control situation.”

Others expressed concern that taxing medical marijuana similar to recreational marijuana would make it too expensive for many patients. I-502 levies a new marijuana excise tax of 25 percent on each producer, processor and retailer of recreational marijuana.

“Effective medication should not only be available to the monetarily wealthy,” said Renae Ely, a medical marijuana user from Port Orchard. “It should be available to everyone.”

The budget provisos being considered by the House and Senate would ask the Liquor Control Board to work with the Departments of Health and Revenue to address issues such as an appropriate minimum age for medical marijuana users, the amount of medical marijuana a person can possess, oversight of health care providers who authorize marijuana use, and rules for collective gardens.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said that it makes sense for the Legislature to wait until the Liquor Control Board finishes developing its rules for the state’s recreational marijuana market before tinkering with the state’s medical marijuana system. The Liquor Control Board plans to adopt the state’s new recreational marijuana rules Aug. 14, and for them to take effect Sept. 14.

Kohl-Welles said she plans to introduce legislation next year addressing how the recreational and medical markets should coexist.

“I think that what we have to approach very carefully is whether or not it would be best for patients — qualifying and legitimate patients — to be part of one system with recreational marijuana, or be part of a totally separate system,” Kohl-Welles said.

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