Can Medical Marijuana and Recreational Marijuana Coexist?

Washington state moves to reform its medical marijuana system. 

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Reuters

Yesterday afternoon, the Washington State Liquor Control Board released recommendations for what to do with the state's medical marijuana system now that recreational marijuana is legal. They boil down to "mostly scrapping" the state's medical marijuana law, according to The Stranger. Advocates—ranging from retailers to patients—aren't happy. 

Specifically, the WSLCB recommends that medical marijuana patients no longer be allowed to grow marijuana at home, that all medical marijuana dispensaries comply with retail regulations in I-502 (the ballot initiative that legalized recreational marijuana in Washington), and that patients register with the state. The board also recommends doing away with the petition process that adds new illnesses to the list of ones treatable by medical marijuana and reducing the amount of marijuana patients can legally possess by 88 percent (from 24 ounces, to 3).

The board basically wants medical marijuana patients to get their pot the way recreational users get theirs. The biggest distinction between the two types of consumers (though it will probably not be the only one) is that medical marijuana patients would be allowed to use tax exemptions to make up for the fact that recreational pot will be taxed, and thus far more expensive than medical pot, which isn't. But that's not the only difference, as the Kitsap Peninsula Business Journal notes: 

If medical marijuana were subject to the same rules as recreational licenses, medical dispensaries that have been in business since 2011 would suddenly have to comply with the new regulations. Those rules are significantly more stringent than those for the medical industry.

As signed into law, the state’s medical marijuana legislation didn’t have clear rules for legally buying or selling the product, let alone sanitation and other processing requirements, Holcomb said.

When medical marijuana was passed in Washington in 2011, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire used a line-item veto to eliminate most of the language that would have set up a formal system for buying and selling cannabis.

As a result, the dispensaries that have emerged in Washington state since then have been largely unregulated. They figured out different ways to pay state taxes and to operate within the state’s ambiguous law.

While the WSLCB's recommendations are just that, Seattle's city council recently passed legislation requiring medical marijuana dispensaries to get a medical marijuana dispensary license, which doesn't actually exist. The bill's author says it's a "a little nudge to the state to do something."

Arguably, the state has to act. The Justice Department's offer to wait and see what happens with legal pot in Colorado and Washington is contingent on both states aggressively regulating their new industries. There's clearly a sense in Washington that recreational marijuana can't be effectively regulated if medicinal marijuana is not (Colorado's medical marijuana market is a different story). Whether the WSLCB's idea is the best one is debatable. The need for a regulatory scheme that will placate the feds is not. 

Top image: Canna Pi medical dispensary vice president for operations Chris Guthrie inspects a medical marijuana product at his clinic in Seattle, Washington, December 3, 2012. REUTERS/Anthony Bolante.

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