RECREATIONAL marijuana and medical marijuana are under different systems. They need to be reconciled.
In 2012 Washington voters approved Initiative 502 to create a recreational-marijuana system that is highly regulated and taxed. But the state already had a medical-marijuana market that is almost unregulated and untaxed, and in which it is easy to become a patient. If nothing is done, the existing market will undermine the new one.
The two systems should be brought closer together. To do that, Senate Bill 5887 has been introduced by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, Clark County.
The bill would place a 20 percent tax on medical cannabis at the producer level. This is less than half the tax load scheduled to be charged for recreational marijuana, but it narrows the gap.
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Rivers’ bill would also put rule-making for medical cannabis in the hands of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, which is setting the rules for the recreational-marijuana shops to open Dec. 1 under authority of I-502.
Rivers opposed 502. Like Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, she has put previous opposition aside and is trying to make a regulated system work. Rivers is notable as the first Republican legislator in Olympia to be prime sponsor of a medical-marijuana bill.
SB 5887 takes an idea out of the bill sponsored two years ago by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire: to protect medical patients and licensed growers, processors and dispensers from state and local arrest. Such protection is essential.
The Rivers bill is being introduced late in the session and it has only two other sponsors, Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island.
Perhaps so, but a bill gives a reason to have a hearing and a hearing gives reason for legislators to start thinking. It’s already in the cards that they will have to reconcile Washington’s two marijuana systems, which were created in different decades for different purposes.
Eventually Washington should have one system that accommodates all authorized users. It should raise ample revenue for the state. And it should be able to run the illicit market out of business.