When it comes to marijuana policy, Washington is a contentious place. It seems like ever since the start of the I-502 campaign, there has been tension in Washington between some recreational marijuana supporters and some medical marijuana supporters, especially business owners. That of course doesn’t mean that every one in both camps are at odds with each other. A vast majority of the people that make up both sides support both sides.
However, the ones that don’t are very vocal, and I expect tension levels to rise during the legislative session as it sounds like some recreational store owners have hired lobbyists to try to convince Washington’s Legislature to put solid regulations in place for medical marijuana dispensaries. Per Business Week:
In 2012, Washington passed a ballot measure legalizing the sale of marijuana for recreational use. Finally adults could get high without a medical excuse. The initiative established a tax and licensing regime for pot growers, processors, and retailers overseen by the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which mandates extensive product testing and package labeling for marijuana products. That’s made recreational pot about 50 percent more expensive than medical marijuana. “Those are all extra costs that are incurred under the law that medicinal pot doesn’t have,” says Lynsee Swisher, director of Nine Point Growth Industries, a licensed grower of strains such as Opal OG Kush.
Now the new retailers are hiring lobbyists to push state legislators in Olympia to regulate medical cannabis. They want medical marijuana to meet the same safety standards as recreational pot and say customers who aren’t true patients should have to buy the high-tax retail product. Some dispensaries are bringing in their own lobbyists to make sure they don’t get squeezed out. Amber Lewis was hired in November by an alliance of medical and recreational businesses that want to figure a way that’s fair to both sides. “I’ve learned that in the cannabis industry, things are very loose, until they’re not,” says Lewis.
While the state doesn’t have an exact count of medical dispensaries, they far outnumber the 334 recreational marijuana stores licensed to open. In Seattle alone, about 300 dispensaries operate, but only 21 retail licenses were issued, says Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. The licenses for the new retail stores were doled out by lottery last May. It cost just $250 to enter, and more than 1,000 people applied for licenses. That included newcomers to the pot business who hadn’t participated in the political battle to legalize marijuana and had no common bond with medical marijuana sellers.
Taking a step back from the allegations being hurled by both sides on social media, I think that clear, fair regulations are a good thing for Washington’s medical marijuana industry. Like Washington, Oregon didn’t have rules in place for a number of years while medical marijuana dispensaries operated, and it led to all kinds of problems, similar to the ones facing medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington. Oregon’s Legislature passed legislation that created rules and a licensing system, and virtually all of those problems went away. Washington’s dispensaries will always be under attack as long as they are unregulated. I hope to see a day when the wounds of the past heal in Washington for all marijuana supporters, and the attacks on Washington’s dispensaries stop, and they are allowed to operate like any other business.