Story by Carte Bisbee
In April 2015 the cannabis industry started to undergo drastic changes implemented by the state of Washington. Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed a bill that directly affects the medical marijuana community, which will take effect July 1, 2016. Senate Bill 5052 authorizes tighter restrictions on the medical community and, more specifically, medical dispensaries.
Medical dispensaries will have to abide by these new laws or be shut down if they fail to comply. If the medical dispensaries can follow the three requirements proposed by the state, the Board of Liquor and Cannabis will inform them that they may continue to function as a medical dispensary.
The first requirement is that the medical dispensary had to have been in operation since January 2013. This will wipe out all medical dispensaries that were opened in the last three years. The second requirement is that the dispensary had to have previously applied to the Board of Liquor and Cannabis for an I-502 license. The third requirement is that dispensaries have to have a history of paying federal and local taxes as a real business. If a dispensary doesn’t meet all of these requirements, it won’t be able to operate legally. If it has partially met the requirements, it will receivea second preference. If those with second preference can pass based on good merits, it will be considered for legalization as a dispensary.
The Liquor and Cannabis Control Board hasn’t announced how manycomply with the requirements, it’s estimated that about 800 dispensaries will apply for renewed approval under SB 5052. However, medical dispensaries aren’t the only entities affected.
Starting July 1, medical marijuana patients will also see a dramatic change. The change is comprised of three sectors: a reduction in the amount of cannabis a patient may possess, new limits on growing, and a change in taxes to be paid on purchases. The possession limit will be reduced from 24 ounces of cannabis to just three ounces. The number of plantsa patient can grow will be reduced from 15 plants to only four to six plants, depending on the physician’s authorization. Lastly, patients are subject to payment of the state’s 37% excise tax but will be exempt from paying sales tax. This may be a big shock for patients who possess, grow, and purchase cannabis.
While the bill applies tighter restrictions on medical marijuana patients, it also affects another part of the industry: the grow co-ops. The grow co-ops is an aspect of the medical marijuana community where people come together to grow medicinal cannabis. A patient who holds a green card is allowed to grow a certain number of plants and possess a certain amount of cannabis. A co-op is simply a group of these patients who come together to form a grow operation where they grow, process, and give or sell to other patients. This is most common in rural areas where hardly any dispensaries are located.
Beginning July 1, the law will limit participants in a co-op to four patients, down from the previous 10 patients. The current cap on plants that can be grown in a co-op will increase from 45 to 60. Medical dispensaries and grow operations are similar in some ways, but a business license isn’t required for a grow operation to sell legally to patients. As long as the patient holds a green card, they may legally purchase medical marijuana from the grow operation. As medical dispensaries begin to close, patients will see fewer options. The medical dispensaries that were so familiar to people will likely begin to shut down because of the onerousrequirements authorized by the bill. These customers will then have to find new dispensaries for the products they need. This is where “medically endorsed” recreational stores come in.
Medically endorsed recreational stores will sell medical cannabis under a I-502 license. In doing so, the stores will carry products intended for medical use and have staff trained onstrains and particular medicinal qualities of cannabis. These patients are most likely looking for strains of cannabis that are high in CBD rather than THC.
High CBD products are in demand by patients because CBD is more effective for most pain management. Productsinclude CBD strains, juice cubes, tinctures and topicals. Patients want strains or compositions of high-CBD and low-THC products to relieve pain without getting the “stoned” effect. Medically, CBD is believed to treat an array of diagnoses, ranging from multiple sclerosis to mood disorders.
Though medical patients are highly particular when choosing their products, a high percentage may not even smoke marijuana. The medically endorsed recreational dispensaries need to begin to look into carrying different compositions of cannabis for the medical community. These alternatives include concentrated oils, cannabis balm to rub on the skin, edibles that can be digested, such as gummies or cookies, or even tinctures to sip or drink.
This demographic can be expected to move into the recreational market. Senate bill 5052 was passed in April 2015 and takes effect July 1st, 2016. Dispensaries will still be open to the public and medical users will still be able to purchase products. Restrictions are much tighter, but will people still be able to get the medicine they need?