Lawmakers move to merge medical and recreational marijuana

OLYMPIA -- Lawmakers in Olympia tackled the controversial problem of merging the state’s two pot markets -- the new retail stores and the existing medical marijuana dispensaries.

Right now, dispensaries don’t have to follow any of the rules of the retail stores, and many argue they are undercutting the emerging legal market and putting it in jeopardy.

“Anyone that is selling marijuana that doesn’t have a license is violating the underlying law, which is a felony every time that you do it,” said state Rep. Christopher Hurst, D-Enumclaw.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has even weighed in.  The Department of Justice says state lawmakers must reign in the unregulated medical pot stores, or the feds will come in and shut down everything.

While medical pot was approved by voters several years ago, it was never meant to allow the sale of pot in storefronts across the state.  And that is becoming a big problem as more and more state-licensed stores open.

“There is a provision to grow marijuana or share marijuana at no cost to someone else who has a qualifying medical condition,” said Hurst, “but there never was a provision to sell marijuana.”

The plan being debated in Olympia would create a new category of medical marijuana stores that would be licensed similar to the existing stores, but that could only sell to qualified patients.  They would have to meet the same standards as the new pot stores, including background checks for owners and quality control.

Some patients, who like their dispensaries, are worried about what will happen if the state intervenes.

“Anyone that says that we’re coming down hard on medical pot is nonsense,” said Hurst.  “Our objective is to license medical pot stores so that people can get it, but they are going to get a safe product, not like what they are getting today.”

Most believe this bill, or some version similar to it, will pass.