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RIC Smith, a tireless advocate for medical marijuana, had a knowing catchphrase: “Munchies save lives.”

It did for Smith, easing his struggle with AIDS for nearly 15 years until his death in Seattle in late 2012. So too for thousands of chronically ill patients who turned to marijuana to quell symptoms unrelieved by more legal pharmaceuticals, even at a risk of their own liberty.

The state Legislature should keep Smith in mind as it prepares to merge Washington’s wildly unregulated medical marijuana market with the vigorously regulated recreational market. The merger is a must-do for lawmakers because having two parallel markets is untenable and inconsistent with the legal marijuana experiment voters authorized in Initiative 502.

But negotiations to blend state House and Senate versions, HB 2149 and SB 5887, should also reflect another initiative: the state’s groundbreaking 1998 initiative to legalize medical marijuana.

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HB 2149, passed by the House this month, would wipe away the right for medical-marijuana patients to grow meaningful quantities of medicine on their own or in groups, effectively requiring them to buy from I-502 recreational marijuana stores. That would put an undue financial burden on sick people. A waiver from the steep recreational sin taxes may help, but there is no reason that patients, or their caregivers, shouldn’t be allowed to tend their own bud gardens.

These patients also have demands that could be poorly served by a purely recreational market. Marijuana strains favored by patients — those with high analgesic but low hallucinogenic qualities — may not be widely stocked by I-502 stores, at least initially.

The House and Senate merger proposals rightly rein in the process of gaining a medical marijuana authorization. Abuse of that process has allowed the term “medical marijuana patients” to become a wink-and-a-nod joke.

Lawmakers must keep legitimate, suffering patients in mind as they seek to push them in a complex and untested new recreational-marijuana marketplace. Munchies save lives.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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