Washington House Passes Controversial MMJ Overhaul

On Friday, April 10, 2015, the Washington state House of Representatives voted to approve a controversial bill, SB 5052, aimed at reforming the state’s medical marijuana industry. Supporters of the bill say that it will help protect patients and bring better standards to the under-regulated industry; opponents claim the bill infringes on the privacy rights and will leave many medical marijuana patients behind.

Under the Senate version of the bill, medical marijuana patients would be required to register in a state wide patient registry, but the House amended that provision, replacing mandatory registration with a more incentive-based system.

The amended House version would still create the patient registry, but patients would have the choice to register or not.

However, unregistered patients would only be allowed to posses up to one ounce of marijuana; the same amount as recreational users. Registered patients would be able to posses up to three ounces of marijuana and would also be exempt from sales tax.

Both registered and unregistered patients would be allowed to grow their own marijuana. Unregistered patients would be allowed to grow up to four plants, while registered patients would be able to grow up to six.

This poke and prod technique is preferable to mandating registration, but it is easy to see how medical marijuana patients would be frustrated with these new requirements.

In addition to tightening requirements on patients, the bill would also put new requirements on medical marijuana growers. Under SB 5052, medical marijuana would be subject to the same stringent testing standards that recreational marijuana is required to comply with.

A controversial measure in the bill, however, is the portion that cracks down on “collective gardens.” Under current law, up to 10 patients can have a collective garden where they can grow up to 15 plants per patient with a cap of 45 plants per garden.

SB 5052 would limit the number of patients per garden to 4; however, the total number of plants per garden would be raised to 60. There are also provisions in the bill which would allow currently existing gardens to be grandfathered into the new regulatory scheme through a merit-based licensing process.

The House also passed a bill aimed at simplifying marijuana taxation. The measure would remove the three tiered tax system and replace it with a 30 percent excise tax that would be paid by the consumer at the point of sale. This would apply to both recreational and medical marijuana patients, registered or not.

The bill would also divert a portion of the marijuana tax revenue back to the local cities and municipalities, which current law does not provide for. If cities and towns want to ban marijuana sales, they would have to put it to a vote.

The recent bout of bills passed by the Washington state legislature is a mixed bag of blessings and curses. On the one hand, adding testing requirements to medical marijuana is a common sense solution and simplifying the tax code is a great idea.

However, reducing freedoms on medical marijuana patients may not be the best legislative approach, not to mention that a 30 percent tax on all marijuana consumers seems like an excessive cash grab by the state.

Thankfully, both bills have to go back to the Senate for approval; and nothing is written in stone. There is still time to make key changes to these adequate but flawed bills; hopefully, legislators will have the wisdom to listen to the will of those they represent.

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