Pubdate: Wed, 06 Jul 2016
Source: Stranger, The (Seattle, WA)
Copyright: 2016 The Stranger
Author: Tobias Coughlin-Bogue


On July 1, Washington State's medical marijuana market disappeared. 
Here's why the most needy patients will likely suffer.

On July 1, Washington State's medical marijuana dispensaries and 
collectives officially closed, leaving only state-licensed 
recreational stores to serve patients.

This is a result of the Cannabis Patient Protection Act (SB 5052), 
which is perhaps the most egregious bit of doublespeak ever. The law 
does not protect patients. In fact, evidence suggests that it will 
put the state's most vulnerable patients at risk.

Both the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board and the 
Washington State Department of Health-the state's two regulatory 
agencies that govern the new medical cannabis system-have stated that 
they believe the only difference between medical and recreational use 
is the intent of the user. Essentially, that the needs of the medical 
market can be just as easily served by the recreational market.

If only that were true.

Under the new system, the state's 1,500-plus dispensaries and 
collective gardens will disappear.

To make up for the loss, the state issued just 222 new retail licenses.

That will directly impact patients such as Madeline Holt. She's three 
and a half years old and has a terminal genetic disorder that gives 
her frequent seizures.

According to her mother, Meagan Holt, doctors didn't believe she 
would live this long.

"I was told on April 10, 2015, to take my child home for one more 
night before she died," said Holt. "Then I tried cannabis, and she's 
still alive." Not only is she alive, but her seizures have become 
less frequent since she started taking cannabis on a daily basis. 
While Holt says she still gives her daughter conventional drugs to 
counteract the seizures, cannabis is an essential part of her medical regimen.

"The importance of this medicine is life or death for Maddy," said 
Holt. Madeline takes a minimum dose of 90 mg of CBD oil and 40 mg of 
THC oil to treat neuropathic pain, muscle spasms, and other issues. 
The oil she takes is a very specific formulation referred to as full 
extract cannabis oil or FECO. It is prepared by Deep Green Extracts, 
a medical oil extractor, and donated to Maddy completely free of 
charge. (The medical cannabis community, despite being portrayed as 
"99.2 percent a criminal enterprise" by certain lawmakers, was often 
extremely compassionate.)

The situation is a precarious one, however, and Holt fears that the 
changes brought about by SB 5052 will threaten it. For one, she's 
worried that she won't be able to find the same products on the 
recreational market. "When you go into a rec store, you cannot find 
the oil that Maddy uses," said Holt. "Patients like her who rely on 
the medication that is in the dispensaries, it's not even available. 
We don't even have the option to go to recreational." While medical 
patients benefit from both THC and CBD in different ways, they're in 
particular need of high-CBD products, which can often be in short 
supply in the recreational market.

"There is no retail cannabis store that could keep a supply of what 
we need," said Holt. "I would be in there weekly getting all of the 
FECO that they have, I'm sure." While it's not yet clear whether 
Holt's assertion is true, the current climate around CBD seems to 
support her view.

Although SB 5052 allowed growers to expand their canopy area in order 
to help meet the new demand of the medical market, it did not require 
them to actually grow high-CDB product.

Last week, I traveled to farms around the state to see how much CBD 
product is growing, and it wasn't promising.

At Emerald Twist-a farm in Goldendale whose general manger, Jerry 
Lapora, is a longtime grower from the Oregon medical market-only 
about 6 percent of its canopy is dedicated to high-CBD cannabis. 
Lapora said the farm has discussed selling its CBD plants to 
Seattle-area processor botanicaSEATTLE for full-plant oil extraction, 
but those plans are in their nascent stage.

Indeed, Chris Abbott, a partner at botanicaSEATTLE, said that 
sourcing was the biggest hurdle to getting new medical products to market.

"We plan to make these medical products," he said, "but it's vital 
that we can source a sufficient amount of pure and clean CBD plant 
material to serve the patient base. That has proven to be difficult 
in this market that has largely focused on high numbers of THC." 
Indeed, market pressure has made it very difficult for growers to add 
CBD to their portfolio.

Alex Cooley, the vice president and cofounder of Solstice, which 
began as a producer/processor of medical cannabis and has 
transitioned to recreational, had similarly dismal news: "When 
Solstice was operating its medical facility, 20 percent of the 
facility was always CBD rich [or CBD pure]. In adult use we have 
grown less than 2 percent with our partner farms and are about to 
harvest our first CBD-rich crop in our separate adult-use facility. 
This summer we have really bet on people wanting CBD since the two 
systems have been Frankensteined together." And that's a big bet. 
Lapora, of Emerald Twist, said he's still sitting on his 2015 harvest 
of CBD. Cooley and others may grow it, but there's no guarantee the 
patients will come. Indeed, they may not be able to afford to.

While pot grown and sold through the legal market comes with certain 
benefits-legality, safety, ostensible purity, et cetera-it's also 
more expensive.

The requirements of "medically compliant" cannabis-which all 
higher-dose medical products will have to meet-will inevitably add to 
the overall cost of production. Although patients are eligible to buy 
their cannabis free of sales tax, many likely will not get that 
discount because they are required to sign up for the new patient 
registry to receive the benefit, and many aren't doing so for privacy reasons.

Even if they do, the sales tax is a mere 9 percent of the cost. The 
marijuana excise tax, which they are still required to pay, is 37 percent.

"Even when we started looking into cannabis," Holt said, "the price 
that it cost to keep up with her medicine was unattainable. We knew 
we would need a community to surround us to help us. That community 
is shrinking really fast, and that's what's scaring me."

Holt's greatest fear is that, due to an inadequate supply of 
affordable medicine, she'll be forced to get hers illegally. "It's 
not necessarily the day of July 1, it's what happens after July 1," 
she said. "What happens after August when it starts cooling down and 
everybody starts running out? I've heard of people starting to 
stockpile medicine.

I can't really do that. I can't afford to do that, so I'm forced into 
the black market and forced to just hope that I have people who will 
help us. Another sad reality of our situation is that my child is 
living on borrowed time, I'm her only caregiver, and I'm living on a 
fixed income."

Holt receives her daughter's medicine for free, but those types of 
donations will likely become less frequent in the highly regulated, 
highly taxed recreational market.

Deep Green is getting a recreational license, but in order to 
continue to give free cannabis to Holt, the business would have to 
either sell it to a retailer at a 100 percent loss so that the 
retailer could give it away for free or sell it to the retailer at 
cost so the retailer could take the loss. Given that most legal 
cannabis businesses are struggling to stay afloat, it's hard to 
imagine that even the most noble-hearted ganjapreneur will give away product.

Without donations, low-income cannabis patients like Madeline Holt 
are basically screwed.

While the market could adapt in a variety of interesting 
ways-fundraising drives for patients, increased cultivation of CBD 
plants, a legislative fix on taxes, sensible regulatory 
action-patients are going to suffer in the meantime.

In Megan Holt's case, that means putting herself at risk of criminal 
prosecution to get necessary medicine for her daughter.

"I need clean medicine, and I'm going to do whatever I have to do to 
save my child's life," Holt told me. "That's really what this is 
about. I'm saving my child when the medical community gave up on her. 
They were out of options.

I found an option, and I'm not going to let my child die because a 
few people in the legislature decided to strip us of our rights.

I know what I'm doing is right."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom