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After months of hearings, debates, amendments, votes and more hearings, marijuana as we know it is about to change in Washington state. Although the dust is still clearing, the cannabis business community is clearly pleased about this development, while medical marijuana advocates are calling on the governor to veto the legislation.
Yesterday, a final version of SB 5052 passed out the Senate and is on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee, who hasn’t definitively said if he will sign it.
One of the central goals of the bill is to bring the state’s freewheeling medical marijuana market under more regulation by combining it with the recreational market, all of which will be overseen by the newly redubbed Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Control Board. The bill would also create a voluntary registry for patients and allows recreational stores to obtain a medical endorsement so they can serve medical patients.
Proponents of the bill say it’s needed to close down shady medical dispensaries that they say are undermining the recreational system by selling tax-free pot to non-patients. However, medical marijuana advocates have expressed concerns throughout the process that responsible dispensaries, which offer advice and medicinal products to patients in a way recreational stores can’t, would also be swept away.
A last-minute amendment to the bill gives dispensaries a way to stay in business. They can go through a merit-based application process, proving that they’ve maintained a business license and paid all taxes and fees. However, it gives priority to businesses who applied for a recreational retail license prior to July 1, 2014.
Kari Boiter, Washington State coordinator for medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, takes particular issue with priority being given to businesses that applied for recreational licenses.
“In a medical system, the only priority should be who has the safest products, who has the best experience,” she says. By July of 2016, dispensaries not approved by the state will have to start shutting their doors.
Americans for Safe Access is calling on Inslee to veto the bill, and at a very minimum veto the emergency clause section that causes the bill to go into effect immediately.
The Washington CannaBusiness Association, which represents recreational businesses and has donated heavily to key legislators, is applauding the bill:
“This is a good day for all Washington residents who asked our state to lead the nation in creating a safe, regulated and quality-controlled cannabis marketplace,” said Washington CannaBusiness Association Executive Director Vicki Christophersen, in a prepared statement. “We have worked hard on behalf of regulated cannabis business owners to share their experiences in this new marketplace by supporting a path forward that protects patient access to medicine and follows the voters’ direction in approving I-502. We thank the House and the Senate for their overwhelming bipartisan approval. And we especially thank Senators Rivers and Hatfield, and Representatives Cody and Schmick, for their leadership. We now look forward to working with Governor Inslee on final approval.”