Toke Signals: Is This the End of Medical Marijuana in Washington?

Is this the way a world ends? The extreme vulnerability of Washington’s medical-marijuana community was highlighted this week by the state House’s approval of a bill that would abolish “collective gardens”—i.e., cannabis dispensaries—and tighten restrictions on patients. House Bill 2149 passed by a 67-29 vote, and, if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, it will eliminate the only legal source of competition for the state-licensed marijuana stores scheduled to open this summer.

Supporters of the bill, introduced by Rep. Eileen Cody (D-West Seattle) and supported by House Democrats, think that banning dispensaries will help maximize tax revenue from the state-licensed pot stores soon to be established by recreational legalization measure I-502, approved by voters in November 2012. All but three of the 29 votes opposing Cody’s bill came from House Republicans.

“Right now, you’re taking everything away from them—you can’t give it back,” said Rep. Cary Condotta (R-East Wenatchee) during the floor debate. “I’m a little concerned we’re moving a little too quickly without a program to integrate.”

HB 2149 would repeal the provision of Washington’s medical-marijuana law allowing collective gardens, effective May 1, 2015, thus bringing a thriving industry to an unceremonious end. It is estimated that around 300 dispensaries operate in the state, employing thousands of often otherwise unemployable workers and having positive economic effects on surrounding communities.

The bill would reduce the amount of marijuana that patients can grow and possess for themselves, from the current 15 plants and 24 ounces to just six plants (three of which may be flowering) and three ounces. Even then, home cultivation won’t be safe; the bill instructs the Department of Health, along with the Liquor Control Board (which is in charge of implementing legalization) to perform a study, due by November 15, 2019, on whether it is “appropriate” to continue allowing home cultivation.

Cody’s bill would set up a “patient recognition” system requiring a state registry that would allow cardholders to buy up to three ounces at a time (members of the general public are limited to one ounce at a time) and avoid paying sales taxes, a privilege addressed in a separate bill. Patients would be required to either register with the state or lose their affirmative defense.

Claims by the Liquor Control Board that patients can rely on the recreational system of cannabis distribution are looking more and more unlikely. After Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s recent ruling that local municipalities can ban marijuana stores in their jurisdictions, large portions of the state are likely to be entirely without cannabis stores under I-502.

“The entire 502 implementation plan has been a failure to date,” Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Olympia) wrote to a constituent. “I supported the initiative, but nobody believed they were voting to harm medical patients . . . The biggest failure comes from the fact that we all wanted to reduce law-enforcement costs, but now the massive regulatory scheme is making it worse.”

Steve Elliott edits Toke Signals,, an irreverent, independent blog of cannabis news, views, and information.

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