The Beginning of the End for Washington’s Collective Gardens

With the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state of Washington, there are essentially three ways to obtain cannabis—from a recreational shop, from the black market or from medical collectives, also referred to as dispensaries. Medical collectives have always been a bit of a gray area, but this has changed. The laws regarding the sale of medical marijuana are finally clear, and the cops are beginning to crack down.

Until SB 5052 was signed in April 24, 2015, the state of medical marijuana was hazy at best. SB 5052 effectively combined recreational marijuana—Initiative 502—and the medical marijuana market. The purpose is to streamline the marijuana market in Washington state so that it all falls under the same regulatory body, the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board.

King County law enforcement officially announced that it would be enforcing SB 5052’s regulations, which made unlicensed collective gardens illegal. The prosecuting attorney, Dan Satterberg, stated, “The law is now clear. The only way to sell marijuana is with a state-issued license.”

There are at least 15 dispensaries in the area that are violating the law. The new attitude following the new law is stern, but the approach that is being taken by law enforcement is gentle for now. Letters have been issued to collectives, notifying them that “It’s time to start wrapping up your business if you don’t have a license.” While police are currently not breaking down doors, law enforcement urges those operating illegally to cease business until proper licensing is obtained.

SB 5052 says that all growers, processors and retailers of medical marijuana are required to receive permits from the Washington LCB, and like the recreational market, all product will have a clear path from seed to sale.

Perhaps the most disruptive part of this bill is the abolition of the collective gardens that currently exist. What will replace these gardens is something called a growing cooperative. These cooperatives must be licensed by the LCB and there is a maximum of four members.

Washington has been working through these hazy laws since 1998 though, when marijuana was first made available for medical purposes. In the original law, Initiative 692, no medical marijuana cards were issued and marijuana use was “authorized” by medical professionals—it was not prescribed. What was issued was a note from a health care professional on tamper-proof paper, which was then brought to a caregiver, who could then supply the patient with up to a 60-day supply.

The definition of a caregiver was initially just as vague as the definition of what constituted a 60-day supply. This gave rise to storefront dispensaries that followed the bare minimum of laws—accepting donations in lieu of payment so as not sell marijuana—leading to many police raids. Collective gardens were finally clearly defined in 2011, under SB 5073.

SB 5073 defined collective gardens as well as established medical marijuana cards in Washington state. These collective gardens allowed up to 10 medical marijuana patients to work together and harvest up to 45 marijuana plants that were to be used by members of the collective.

The date the collectives need to keep in mind is July 1, 2016—this is when all growers, processors and retailers must be fully licensed by the state LCB. Until then, steps should be taken to obtain proper licensing and if necessary, ceasing business in order to stay within the law.

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