Washington House Approves Vote to Ban Dispensaries

The Washington House of Representatives voted on Monday to approve the bill H.B. 2149.  The bill seeks to phase out the state’s medicinal marijuana dispensaries, reacting to the fear that these businesses will detract from the recreational market.  The medical market is currently poised to present unregulated competition for the taxable, state-licensed recreational stores.

The vote passed with an overwhelming majority of 67 to 29. Patients will be able to buy their medicinal marijuana from the same stores serving the recreational market, which will become the only stores selling the drug as of May 1, 2015. This is when the state’s medicinal dispensary program will be dropped. Legal pot stores under Initiative 502 are scheduled to open sometime this summer.

The medicinal market has many angry spokespersons speaking against the bill’s passage. Steve Sarich, the executive director of the Cannabis Action Network, says “Our cowardly legislators voted to effectively end medical cannabis here. Patients are in shock. If the Senate votes to pass this bill, Washington will be the first state to end medical cannabis.” Sarich originally opposed I-502 because of the negative impact he expected it to have on patients.

Vivian McPeak, executive director of Seattle’s Hempfest, warned: “Those who predicted I-502 would be a catastrophe for medical patients have been vindicated.” He explained, “The federal government is riding roughshod over the state legislature and the governor’s office to clean up the Wild West of medical marijuana in Washington State. I think that may be the single biggest factor.” McPeak also touched on the issue of a “widely held perception among mainstream people and politicians that medical marijuana is mostly a farce and an excuse for healthy people to gain access to pot, and for others to profit off its untaxed, unregulated sales,” citing these assumptions and still others as the reasoning behind the proposed discontinuance of Washington’s medicinal market.

But will the bill’s passage actually hinder patients’ ability to attain their medicine? In a literal sense, it will: H.B. 2149 will cut the number of plants that a patient or caregiver can grow from 15 to six. It will also reduce the quantity of marijuana one can possess from 24 ounces to three (this still allows patients to carry up to three times the amount of a recreational consumer, whose limit is one ounce). Patients will also have tax-free access to their medicine, and will still be able to claim immunity from arrest for possession or cultivation of the drug – to a certain extent, of course.

In Colorado, currently the only other US state with legal recreational marijuana, retail stores have been selling to both recreational and medical consumers since New Years. Washington is clearly attempting to incorporate both cannabis markets in a similar fashion, but there is one key difference between the states: Colorado’s marijuana retail shops were selected from the state’s existing medical dispensaries, keeping members of the medical community integrally associated with the recreational market; Washington’s stores will have been selected from a lottery, and practically anyone could have applied for a ticket.

The bill is supported by state Democrats, and opposed mainly by state Republicans. The Washington Senate is expected to ratify the bill soon.




Photo Credit: Ian Chapin

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