New rules would outlaw medical marijuana dispensaries

OLYMPIA -- The Washington State Liquor Control Board proposed new rules Monday that would effectively outlaw the medical marijuana dispensaries when the new recreational pot stores start opening next year.

Many believe the two systems can’t coexist, given that the new stores will be heavily regulated and taxed while the dispensaries have little, if any, oversight.

“What we’re trying to do is limit abuse of the medical marijuana system,” said Mikhail Carpenter, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board.  “The medical marijuana system should exist for people who are truly sick and truly need medicine.  It shouldn’t be for people who are looking for recreational marijuana.”

This is the day many medical marijuana patients and activists had feared was coming ever since the passage of Initiative 502 last year. They have long thought they were going to get squeezed out by the new pot stores.

“What they’re doing is they’re trying to eliminate medical,” said Steve Sarich of the Cannabis Action Coalition.  He argues “greed” is what was behind the rule to get rid of dispensaries.

“What better way to get rid of the competition, you just make them illegal again,” Sarich said.  “We are not going to make 200,000 patients in the state of Washington criminals again.  That is not what the voters voted for.”

Monday's rules from the Liquor Control Board are a first stab, a draft, at trying to reconcile these two systems, medical and recreational.  The concern is that keeping them separate will be untenable.  That it won’t work.  That if you don’t shut down the dispensaries, new recreational users will just use them to get their pot, since it’s likely to be cheaper, and they are allowed to buy more.

The draft recommendations that were issued Monday would also outlaw any home grows even for medical marijuana patients.

“There will be a safe and consistent supply of tested, you know, labeled marijuana available for people,” said Carpenter.

Sarich argued the problems with the current system can be corrected without getting rid of the dispensaries.

“You don’t have to eliminate medical marijuana because some people are cheating.  There's people cheating the system in every facet,” he said.  “If they were required by law to prove that they had a qualifying condition, then that problem would go away.”

Sarich also objects to the new rule that would apply I-502's hefty tax to medical marijuana users.

“We do not tax food in this state, we do not tax medicine in this state,” he said.  “And voters said that cannabis is medicine.”

The leader of last year’s I-502 said having current medical marijuana patients go to the new pot stores instead of the dispensaries will be a better system.

“What Initiative 502 does for patients is offer them something that they haven’t had before, which is quality control over the product that is being sold to them,” said Alison Holcomb of the ACLU of Washington.  “They’re going to know who’s growing it, where it came from.  It’ll be tested. They’ll have information about pesticides.  And it will be available to them whenever they want it in a licensed store that’s legal under the law.  They won’t have to worry about crossing the threshold and getting arrested.”

The Liquor Control Board will be taking public comment on these rules over the next several weeks.  Once members have them finalized, they will be given to the Legislature in January for approval.