Toke Signals: Medical Marijuana’s Manufactured ‘Crisis’

As a result of this year’s failed legislative attempts to force medical-cannabis patients into the recreational-marijuana system created by legalization measure I-502, attentive observers were given a window into how things are done at the Capitol. It wasn’t reassuring.

This unimpressive display of lawmakers who are almost entirely clueless when it comes to medical marijuana was particularly distressing given that cannabis for medicinal purposes has been legal in this state for almost 16 years now. You’d think legislators would have bothered to educate themselves on such a volatile and evolving issue.

What makes Olympia’s marijuana ignorance particularly mystifying is that we’re being told there is a “crisis” concerning this state’s medical-marijuana system, and that federal raids are supposedly imminent if lawmakers don’t destroy—I mean “regulate”—medical marijuana so that it’s practically indistinguishable from the recreational market—and (entirely coincidentally, I’m sure) “regulate” it so that all the profit currently flowing through mom-and-pop dispensaries instead goes to heavily taxed 502 stores. State government gets a bigger cut that way, don’tcha know.

In any event, if there were indeed a “medical-marijuana crisis” rather than the sort of manufactured hysteria which almost always precedes bad legislation, you can bet that these self-serving blowhards who have been endlessly bleating about the “untaxed, unregulated medical-marijuana businesses” would have actually educated themselves on the ins and outs of the market, instead of just memorizing a few handy catchphrases.

The last hope of state politicians (and I-502 profiteers) at “folding in” medical marijuana to the 502 system—SB 5887—died not with a bang but with a whimper last week, as the 2014 session came to a close. Several lawmakers late last Thursday said the House bill already covered here, HB 2149, had “little to no chance of passing” out of the House, and, in a richly ironic and comically symbolic dust-up, SB 5887 appears to have stalled in the Senate on Thursday due to a fight over money.

Sen. Ann Rivers, the La Center Republican who sponsored SB 5887, said that measure is dead because of “immovable positions” on what should be done with tax revenue from the new recreational-marijuana market. While the bill passed the Senate 34-15 on Saturday, Rep. Cary Condotta (R-Wenatchee) drafted an amendment which would appropriate 10 percent of recreational-marijuana tax revenue between growers and processors, and 20 percent of tax revenue between retailers and consumers, for local governments.

I-502 imposed a 25 percent excise tax on each of the three levels of distribution in the recreational system: producer to processor, processor to retailer, and retailer to consumer. Rep. Condotta’s amendment to divert part of those funds to local governments was meant to motivate counties to lift bans on recreational marijuana by dangling cash in front of them.

The Democratic caucus refused to support Condotta’s change, and Condotta said Republicans would not support 5887 without his amendment. That leaves Washington’s medical-cannabis program comparatively unregulated even as the state rolls out its heavily taxed and regulated recreational-marijuana program. E

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

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