Medical Pot Purveyors Protest Amendment They Claim Could Put Them Out of Business
The state legislature enters a special session this week to finish the work of passing a budget bill. But this year, the nuts-and-bolts legislation has become a flash point for medical marijuana activists, some of whom oppose a budget rider that would regulate medical cannabis through the state liquor board—the same agency already tasked with overseeing the legal recreational pot market created by I-502.
On both sides of the argument are advocates concerned that the newly legal pot industry will spell doom for the currently tolerated, mostly unregulated gray-market medical pot shops, which have flourished in Washington over the past three years.
"It is our belief that medical cannabis needs regulation in order to survive," says dispensary operator John Davis, who heads the Coalition for Cannabis Standards & Ethics. The group argues that, absent some form of official recognition in law, tolerance for medical cannabis sales will fade when the industry is viewed in comparison to state-licensed shops, and that could lead to stepped-up enforcement against dispensaries.
But dispensary owners on the other side of the argument fear that the medical marijuana amendment is a ploy to ban unlicensed medical cannabis production and drive them out of business. "They plan on making us conform to the I-502 model," says dispensary operator Steve Sarich. "The liquor control board already made it clear that we are competition. What better way to get rid of the competition?"
The budget amendment is modeled on the recently rejected SB 5887, a bill that elicited significant opposition, including the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs and the ACLU of Washington, both of which suggested the legislature wait for the I-502 rules process to play out. The ACLU opposes the budget rider as well, says drug policy director Alison Holcomb.
The current legislation will have no public hearing. Sarich, who is part of a group organizing a protest next Tuesday at the state capitol, calls that intentional. "They knew they couldn't pass SB 5887, so they put it into a budget amendment that the legislature is likely to pass."
Davis dismisses Sarich's rhetoric: "If you think you'll be able to sell medicine without any regulation, without any consumer protection, you're just deluding yourself."
The medical cannabis budget rider protest is scheduled for Tuesday, May 21, at noon at the sundial on the state capitol grounds.