Thoughts on medical and recreational markets

There’s a lot of chatter going around about what will happen in the legislature with Washington’s medical marijuana structure, where it will go and whether it will be rolled into the recreational system.

Several people I’ve talked to don’t like Senate Bill 5052. The bill would rename the state Liquor Control Board as the state Liquor and Cannabis Board and would roll medical marijuana under its authority.

(Medical marijuana farm in Vancouver)
(Medical marijuana farm in Vancouver)

That bill provides some protections from arrest for medical marijuana patients and their providers, although it falls short of saying that the drug is a necessity for some patients (To quote: “Nothing in this chapter establishes the medical necessity or medical appropriateness of ((cannabis)) marijuana for treating terminal or debilitating medical conditions”).

It also establishes a confidential patient database. But that database would also be open to “appropriate local, state, tribal, and federal law enforcement or prosecutorial officials who are engaged in a bona fide specific investigation of suspected marijuana-related activity that may be illegal under Washington state law to confirm the validity of the authorization card of a qualifying patient or designated provider.”

The bill would reduce the amount of cannabis a patient can possess and cultivate, from 24 ounces to 3, and from 15 plants to 6. And it would close medical dispensaries and roll them into a more regulated structure.

I’m not a huge expert on legislation (or reading bills), but I’d suggest you give it a look yourself to learn more about the changes. You can read it here: Senate Bill 5052

The medical community seems to prefer House Bill 2058, which is somewhat on the sidelines in a committee right now.

That bill also provides protections for patients and providers against arrest, protections against housing discrimination and provides a licensing structure for nonprofit medical dispensaries under the Department of Health and growers under the Department of Agriculture.

It creates a separate structure for patients, rather than rolling them into the recreational market.

I’d also suggest you read that bill here: House Bill 2058

My personal opinion is that any changes made must ensure that patients are able to continue to seamlessly get the products they need at as low cost as possible.

And I’ve talked with several patients and what they need is very different than what is provided by the recreational market. They need things like F.E.C.O. – Full Extract Cannabis Oil – a highly concentrated form of medical cannabis used to treat cancer and other patients. And they need medication that is far more strictly tested than what our loose medical structure requires right now.

The medical system also needs to dump recreational “patients” that have been using the system as a work-around from when the plant was illegal in the state – or as a work-around to avoid paying taxes.

People who work the system make it much more difficult for patients that truly need medical marijuana. And they should move to the rec market and bite the bullet – because the rec market was created for casual users and others that want to normalize the market for the plant.

Whether sales go through I-502 rec stores or through dispensaries licensed by the Health Department, patients need assurance that what they’re buying is designed for their needs and not the needs of the rec market.

I’ve talked with a few of the I-502 rec store owners and they said they’re willing to operate separate parts of their stores for the medical side and to get patients what they need with very little markup (enough to cover their operating costs) – because they would benefit on the rec side by moving those abusing the medical side over to rec.

And in Colorado, that structure seems to work, although their rec market was built off of their already existing medical market, whereas we’d be looking to build a new medical market off of our clunky rec market.

I’m not sure combining the two markets is appropriate here – at least not without several assurances aimed at protecting patients. And either way it goes, I think we need to allow medical growers and processors a new kind of license that allows them to continue to make the medications that they already have expertise in. And the rules should also require quite a bit of testing for mold, pesticides and other things that medical patients are far more sensitive to.

I also think there should be a license that allows I-502 growers and processors to make those products if they want to enter the medical market. Many I-502 growers came from the medical side originally and know how to make products for patients, but an additional license for medical would or could assure that they understand the difference between medical and recreational needs.

I think recreational stores could handle medical sales, although if the state goes that way they should approach it carefully and include the Department of Health on that side. The most important thing is that patients continue to have access through the transition and not face any undue hardships.

One side is about money, and the market will sort out which rec stores and growers survive. The other side is not and should not be about money – it’s about caring for very sick people.

It’s up to the Legislature to decide where we go next.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments!

SueVo (sue.vorenberg@columbian.com)