So Washington state's medical marijuana patient registry database is online, despite concerns that it would not be up and running on time. Still, the state is warning that "many stores may not be ready to begin to input data and create recognition cards" and recommends that people call stores ahead of time to check.
Around noon at Dockside Sodo, general manager Gabe Fertman was struggling to get access to the patient registry, spending time on the phone with the Washington Department of Health (DOH) and AIRLIFT, the company contracted to create the database. He'd had access to the system since about 8 a.m., he said.
Fertman said he'd had only a couple patients come in to sign up. Budtender Bryson Chin reported a few confused phone calls but few actual patients. Probably a good thing. As of noon, Fertman said he was able to check a patient's card to verify if they were eligible, but couldn't actually issue any cards.
The database is integral to the state's new medical marijuana system, mandated by the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which shutters existing medical marijuana outlets and producers, forcing patients to buy their medicine at recreational stores. By signing up for the system, which is voluntary, patients are eligible to grow more plants at home, possess larger quantities of cannabis, be protected from arrest, and are eligible for a 9 percent discount.
However, even with the system online, everything is still totally fucking fucked.
For one, as many patients feared, recreational stores like Dockside simply don't have the right products. Even though Dockside started in medical and is a very pro-medical store, Fertman told me he had trouble accessing "medically compliant" products from producers and processors. Many, he said, didn't know enough about the medical market to want to dive in.
"We have been asking producer/processors for the last month what they're going to be doing and they're like, 'We don't know yet!'" he said. "Some people are definitely making strides, some people are actively working for it, but most people are saying, 'We're not sure, we're waiting to see what the market demands.'
"The producer/processors are waiting to figure out if it's worthwhile," he continued. "There was no incentive or rules for them to have it ready for them. The medical-specific products, the higher-CBD capsules and those kind of things might take a little while, for sure."
What would he tell a patient who came in looking for 100mg of full-plant extract high-CBD oil today?
"We have what we have currently in stock in that department," he said. "But no, it's not gonna be medically specific."
Dockside's concentrate menu did include some high-quality full-plant extract oils, like the ones from Craft Elixirs and Raven Grass Farms, but they were mostly of the high-THC or hybrid variety. Nothing I saw was formulated in the 5:1 and 1:1 CBD-to-THC ratios many patients medicate with.
Just a reminder, the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis board opted not to license additional medical producer/processors, instead granting existing recreational producer/processors additional canopy and allowing them to make higher-dosage products. It did not, however, make any rules about what kind of cannabis they grow with that extra canopy.
Jody Hall, who owns the Goodship Company, a Seattle-area edibles company, said "medically compliant products," as the state has designated them, are kind of a gray area for her. Under the state's system, producers can make capsules and concentrates, but she was still unclear on whether she could offer a medically compliant edible. And, she said, she got into the business to make recreational products, not medicine.
"We don't want to make a pill," she said. "That's not our brand."
Maybe leave the medicine to the existing medical processors? Oh, that's right! We shut the vast majority of them down today.
One patient who didn't show up to a rec store today is Michael Scott, a medical cannabis patient and documentary filmmaker working to chronicle the history of medical marijuana in Washington. He requires about 6 grams of full-plant extract cannabis oil a month to treat chronic pain. Previously, he was on a high dose of opiate painkillers that, he said, left him comatose. For patients like Scott, the new medical marijuana system is simply untenable. His first complaint was that it doesn't work yet.
“It’s insane because they created all these rules and guidelines and deadlines and all this and they say, 'Okay, this is what you have to do,'" he said. "And then they’re not ready! What the hell?”
His second criticism was that it's unaffordable. He told me that he'd been paying $20 for a gram of high-quality full-plant cannabis extract oil on the medical market. According to data from Headset.io, a business intelligence company for cannabis retailers, a half gram of the most popular CBD oil on the recreational market—from Dama, which was at the center of a recent pesticide scandal—sells for $56.11 before tax. Excise tax adds another 37 percent. Sales tax adds 9.5 percent. (Another interesting tidbit from Headset.io, CBD products account for only 1.5 percent of the total market share right now.)
Patients who sign up for the registry don't have to pay the 9.5 percent sales tax, but they're still paying a much higher price for something that might not even be the actual medication they need. Just a reminder, the conditions they've been treating didn't disappear today, just the medical marijuana system they were using to treat them. Scott said he was baffled that the state was going ahead with the new medical marijuana system when it was so woefully unprepared to meet the needs of patients.
"If you’re not ready," he asked, "why are you doing this?”