Are Dispensaries Doomed?
State Work Group Attacks Medical Pot Shops, Rights of Patients
In June, the state legislature created a work group to make recommendations on regulating medical cannabis, which has been legal since 1998 but remains largely unregulated, now that pot is also legal for recreational purposes. The work group consists of two members each from the state's health department, revenue department, and liquor board, as well as the governor's office and legislative staff.
Regulators have their sights set on gutting key portions of the state's medical marijuana law. In a legislative hearing last month, Department of Health spokeswoman Kristi Weeks said medical cannabis retailers have always been illegal, echoing opening remarks made by committee chair Representative Christopher Hurst, who asked, "What's it going to take to shut these all down?"
Next month, the legislature will receive recommendations on how to address its perceived medical marijuana problem, and a document obtained by The Stranger offers a glimpse into those options. The memo lists several "strategies" that would equalize rules for medical and recreational marijuana. Among them: reduce the amount patients can possess (currently 24 ounces), eliminate or restrict home growing, ban collective gardens, and eliminate certain legal defenses in court.
However, the document suggests keeping dispensaries in a "system parallel to recreational sales," and it concedes certain changes are unlikely. Removing organ transplant protections and parental rights for patients "would likely be met with great resistance," the document states.
The Department of Health confirmed it drafted the advice for the medical cannabis work group, but downplayed its significance. "The state Department of Health isn't proposing or recommending anything in the document; rather, we're providing advisory information on options that the legislature might consider as ways to eliminate some of the contradictions or conflicts within the marijuana laws," spokesman Donn Moyer told me.
But the work group's recommendations will be the starting point for debate this legislative session, and liquor board director Rick Garza said at last month's legislative hearing that options regarding "health care professionals and patients and the collective garden and the possession amounts we leave to the Department of Health."
Representative Hurst tells me he isn't considering any medical cannabis legislation at this point, not even to address dispensaries, which he predicts will scatter next year after getting raid notices from the federal government. But if the medical pot work group suggests any reform, he says, "I'd be happy to look at it."