Restrictive MMJ Bill Becomes Law in Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law SB 5052, a controversial bill aimed at reforming the state’s medical marijuana system. On the whole, politicians seem pretty pleased with themselves for passing the measure, but many medical marijuana proponents have characterized it as a bad bill aimed at making more money and not helping those in need.

“Until today, our system has been completely unregulated,” Inslee said on April 24, 2015, in a statement on Facebook. “Today, after tremendous hard work and compromise by legislators on both sides of the aisle, I signed a bill that will create a medical marijuana system that works for Washington.”

When Washington voters approved recreational marijuana in 2012, a tightly regulated system with taxed licensed dispensaries was put in place, which stood in stark contrast to the state’s loosely regulated medical system. This lack of harmony between the two systems has created complications for regulators, which is why the legislature has taken up the issue—that, and money of course.

With medical marijuana being taxed at a lower rate the recreational, some less than sickly consumers have entered the medicinal market and those already in the medical system feel disinclined to join the recreational system, making Washington lose out on potential revenue. By herding consumers into a more unified market, the state will be able to collect more tax revenue.

Under SB 5052, also known as the “Cannabis Patient Protection Act,” medical marijuana and recreational marijuana will be combined into one system. This would do away with medical marijuana dispensaries as we know it, and instead dispensaries would simply obtain an endorsement to sell medical marijuana.

Medical marijuana patients will see a huge reduction in the amount of marijuana they are allowed to purchase; going from 15 ounces to a paltry one ounce. If patients sign up with the voluntary state registry, that amount is tripled to three ounces and patients are exempt from sales tax.

However, neither patient nor recreational user will be exempt from the 30 percent excise tax paid at the point of sale. While preferable to Washington’s confusing three tiered tax system, increasing the medical costs for those with debilitating conditions seems like poor public policy.

It is also worth mentioning something that Jacob Sullum of Reason.com pointed out, which is that SB 5052 does not provide full legal protection for all medical marijuana patients. Under the new law, simply having a doctor’s recommendation “does not provide protection from arrest unless the qualifying patient or designated provider is also entered in the medical marijuana authorization database and holds a recognition card.” Medical marijuana patients are understandably concerned with these developments.

Speaking with NBC News, medical marijuana patient Cari Boiter expressed her displeasure with the bill. “It should be to help patients get more access in this new legal market, not less,” Boiter said. “I just hate to see people who are already so vulnerable suffer simply to make it easier for a 502 business to succeed … .”

Now, it is not all bad news for medical marijuana patients. SB 5052 will require medical marijuana to undergo the same testing requirements as recreational marijuana, which will improve consistency and safety. While there is a lot to dislike about the “Cannabis Patient Protection Act,” this provision is not one of them.

Good, bad or indifferent, SB 5052 is now the law and things will start changing very soon. It is difficult to predict how well businesses will react to the shifting regulatory landscape, but there will certainly be some pain felt all around. Patients will now have to restructure their routines; costs for those in the medical market will go up; and many businesses will have to start making some hard choices.

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