Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jul 2016
Source: Seattle Weekly (WA)
Copyright: 2016 Village Voice Media
Author: Casey Jaywork


Little Drama, Lots of Doubts as Washington's Medical Marijuana 
Industry Goes Dark

It's not yet clear how many patients will switch to licensed stores, 
versus going underground.

Today is the first day on which authorities have vowed to crack down 
on medical marijuana dispensaries which lack government-issued 
cannabis licenses. Our cover story this week unpacks the history of 
that vow. By all appearances, the day has come and gone without any 
major drama.

But patients are still upset about reduced access to their medince. 
Ryan Day, who uses cannabis to treat his son's epilepsy, says that 
licensed stores lack the kind of cannabis products his son needs. 
"The recreational stores aren't carrying the product we need," he 
says. "The supply chain is just not there."

Day says he grows cannabis in his garage and then refines it into a 
highly-concentrated solution which he mixes into his five year old 
son's apple sauce. The solution is very high in CBD, a chemical in 
cannabis that helps with body pain and some other conditions, and low 
in THC, the main chemical that gets you high. "There is no detectable 
THC in" the solution, Day says.

Before today, it was nice to have unlicensed dispensaries around in 
case his crop failed, he says. Now that more-expensive licensed pot 
shops are the only game in town, Day says, there's no affordable 
fall-back plan. "If I fail, if my harvest dies, my son is screwed," Day says.

Day isn't alone. "It's going to be terrible," says one dispensary 
owner in central Washington, who spoke on condition of anonymity 
because she fears she'll be targeted by police. "We have literally 
had people on the verge of tears about 'What am I going to do July 
1st?' They can't afford to go into these recreational stores and pay 
those high taxes on top of the already inflated prices that the 
licensed I-502 stores have."

Last year state legislators decided that because Washington now has a 
taxed, licensed system of recreational cannabis shops there's no 
longer any reason to tolerate the gray market of unlicensed 
dispensaries that have been around since 1998. So they allowed 222 
dispensaries to become licensed while requiring the rest shut their 
doors. The legislature agreed to allow patients to buy more, and more 
potent, cannabis at slightly lower prices in licensed stores. To get 
those benefits, patients with cannabis prescribed to them by a doctor 
must voluntarily register in a Department of Health-controlled 
database-which was barely ready in time for today's deadline. In 
order to get on that database, according to a spokesperson for the 
Liquor and Cannabis Board, patients must bring a doctor-signed form 
(created by the Dept. of Health last year) and identification to any 
licensed store with a medical endorsement. There, a trained 
"consultant" will register the patient in the state database and give 
them a card identifying them as a registered patient.

As of earlier this week, there were 21 unlicensed cannabis stores, 
producers and processors still open in Seattle, according to David 
Mendoza, Mayor Ed Murray's pot czar. He said that the city has been 
in the process of "hand-delivering letters and informing each of them 
in person that they must be closed by 11:59pm on June 30th. If they 
remain open after that date and time they could face a $1,000 
citation and/or a misdemeanor for operating a marijuana business 
without a regulatory business license." The goal, Mendoza emphasized, 
was to close the unlicensed shops without arresting anyone.

Some licensed pot shops have reacted to the dispensary closure with 
special discounts for patients. For example, Ponder, a 
medically-endorsed licensed pot shop in the Central District, is 
offering 20 percent off to documented patients.

There is some evidence that today's cutoff has pushed more cannabis 
patients into licensed stores. Dave Good, owner of the Green Door, 
which was an unlicensed dispensary until yesterday and is scheduled 
to re-open as a licensed store with a medical endorsement on the 
15th, said that they had "probably double" the normal amount of 
patients yesterday. John Branch, owner of medically-endorsed Ponder, 
says "My phone's been blowing up all morning" with calls from 
patients trying to figure out where they can now buy their medicine.

"I anticipate a rush in the next two weeks" of patients trying out 
licensed stores, says Joby Sewell of Cannabis City, "and then it will 
die down" after patients see how inadequate licensed stores are to their needs.

A map of licensed stores with medical endorsements is available here.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom