Changes Looming in Washington

Story by Gina Kolhage

     The medicinal use of marijuana in Washington State has been legal since 1998 when it was authorized by the passing of voter Initiative 692. This was a landmark decision considering it provided legal defense against criminal prosecution of both healthcare practitioners and patients abiding by the newly accepted legislation. Over the next few years the legislation was amended on a number of occasions.  One was to expand the list of debilitating conditions acceptable to merit healthcare practitioner recommendations.  The next was to increase the number of patients and/or providers who could form a collective garden.  And finally an increase to the list of healthcare practitioners capable of recommending the use of medical marijuana throughout the state.  But now as we approach the middle of 2016, under I-502 Legislation and more recently SB5052, the people of Washington are about to witness the dissolution of their long lived Medicinal Marijuana Program and will once again have to adapt.
     Under new rules, which take effect July 1, medicinal marijuana dispensaries that are unlicensed by the state will no longer be allowed to operate illegally and patients seeking their medicine will have to seek out “medically endorsed” recreational marijuana stores. Medically endorsed stores will also require a “certified consultant” to be on site in order to be legally compliant. Furthermore, should patients wish to obtain any benefits, such as tax exemption and increased purchase limits, they will have to be registered into a state managed “patient registry” and obtain a certified ID card. All of these changes are occurring rapidly and many patients are worried about the impact they will have on their ability to get the medicine and care they require.
     We at CannaBiz Journal spoke to a number of employees and managers at recreational stores across the state to explore their thoughts on what’s happening and they were able to confirm some of our suspicions. Store owners are indeed expecting the influx of patients who could previously visit designated collectives or dispensaries, but will now have to source their medicine at recreational stores that have received medical endorsements. Thus far, a handful of stores have increased the availability of low-THC/high-CBD containing products, but even those with a head start are most likely are going to suffer from limited availability and a lack of variety for some time. We don’t know what overall impact this will all have on the legal cannabis market in Washington, but if recent activities in Oregon serve as an indicator, we very well may see an upswing in grey and black market activity if these transitions don’t pan out smoothly and patients find it harder to access their medicine.