Pubdate: Fri, 24 Apr 2015
Source: Washington Times (DC)
Copyright: 2015 The Washington Times, LLC.
Authors: Rachel La Corte and Gene Johnson


OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Nearly two decades after voters passed a medical
marijuana law that often left police, prosecutors and even patients
confused about what was allowed, Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Friday
attempting to clean up that largely unregulated system and harmonize
it with Washington's new market for recreational pot.

Among the law's many provisions, it creates a voluntary registry of
patients and, beginning next year, eliminates what have become in some
cases large, legally dubious "collective gardens" providing cannabis
to thousands of people.

Instead, those patients will be able to purchase medical-grade
products at legal recreational marijuana stores that obtain an
endorsement to sell medical marijuana, or they'll be able to
participate in much-smaller cooperative grows, of up to just four patients.

And those big medical marijuana gardens will be given what lawmakers
describe as a path to legitimacy: The state will grant priority in
licensing to those that have been good actors, such as by paying
business taxes.

"I am committed to ensuring a system that serves patients well and
makes medicine available in a safe and accessible manner, just like we
would do for any medicine," Inslee wrote in his signing message to the

The proliferation of green-cross medical dispensaries has long been a
concern for police and other officials who decry them as a masquerade
for black-market sales. Some proprietors of new, state-licensed
recreational pot businesses - saddled with higher taxes - called them
unfair competitors.

Washington in 1998 became one of the first states to approve the use
of marijuana for medical purposes, but the initiative passed by voters
did not allow commercial sales. Instead, patients had to grow the
marijuana for themselves or designate someone to grow it for them. The
measure did not prohibit patients from pooling their resources
together to have large collective gardens on a single property, but
the size of some made law enforcement queasy, and raids sometimes resulted.

Medical marijuana growers repeatedly sought legislation that would
validate their business model, coming closest in 2011, when the
Legislature approved a bill to create a licensing framework for
medical dispensaries. But then-Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed much of the

This time, with the state seeking to support its nascent recreational
pot industry after the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, there was a
financial impetus to pull the medical users into the recreational
system. The recreational businesses pressed for a tight rein on the
medical industry with newfound lobbying muscle, and the medical
businesses countered with some of their own.

That left advocates concerned that the people who are actually sick
were the ones losing out. Under the new system, patients will be
buying more heavily taxed marijuana, and they'll be allowed to grow
fewer plants at home.

"This is pejorative to patients while being friendly to those who are
in the business of patients," said Muraco Kyashna-tocha, who operated
a Seattle medical dispensary. "There are sincere patients who don't
have any money. They're cancer patients who are being bankrupted by
their treatment."

Under the new law, patients who join the voluntary registry will be
allowed to possess three times as much marijuana as is allowed under
the recreational law: 3 ounces dry, 48 ounces of marijuana-infused
solids, 216 ounces liquid and 21 grams of concentrates. Such a patient
could also grow up to six plants at home, unless authorized to receive

Patients who don't join the registry can possess the same as the
recreational limit of 1 ounce, and grow up to four plants at home -
which recreational users can't.

Sen. Ann Rivers, a Republican from La Center who was the sponsor of
the measure, said that part of the reason the registry is so important
is to find out if there are enough stores providing medical products
to patients.

"We have no idea how many patients we have in this state," she

Inslee, who vetoed some minor sections of the bill, was joined during
the signing by Ryan Day and his epileptic 6-year-old son, Haiden. The
boy's seizures have been managed with an extracted liquid form of marijuana.

Day said the new law gives his family more certainty.

"We were under the threat every single year that the system was going
to change in a way that was going to take away my ability to help my
son," he said.

Johnson reported from Seattle.
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