TAKE a short drive through any corner of Seattle, and count the number of businesses with green crosses on their signs. For the uninitiated, that is the discreet symbol for a marijuana dispensary.
But at this point, who isn’t initiated?
The continued explosion of dispensaries is abetted by the state’s paper-thin regulation of medical marijuana. The only barrier to become a customer is a medical authorization, easily had for $100 or so. State law doesn’t even explicitly authorize dispensaries, and doesn’t govern who runs them, or how.
Amid the rush to set up strict control and taxation of the recreational marijuana market mandated by the voter-approved Initiative 502, medical marijuana has quietly hummed in the gray market — largely untaxed and scantly regulated.
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These markets, however, are yoked to each other. For I-502 to succeed, the state must reset these wildly uneven rules.
The Legislature quietly took a step last month to do so. Little-noticed provisos in the House and Senate versions of budgets require the Liquor Control Board and departments of Health and Revenue to come up with a plan before the 2014 session to reconcile the medical and recreational markets.
The House version is stronger, calling for “integration” of the markets, which makes the most sense. Both call for a plan to regulate growers, food processors, retailers and the medical providers who authorize patients, as well as for a medical marijuana tax.
This is long overdue. The Legislature passed a medical marijuana regulation plan in 2011, only to see then-Gov. Chris Gregoire regrettably veto the bill, on the unfounded fear that it would expose state workers to federal prosecution.
In reconciling the rules for the medical and recreational marijuana markets, regulators must recognize that legitimately sick patients depend on cannabis to ease suffering. If those legitimate medical patients are forced into the recreational market, they should get a break from I-502’s heavy excise taxes.
The Liquor Control Board, which plans to release a draft of the recreational market rules on Thursday, has efficiently navigated the uncharted waters of a legalized marijuana market. The Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee should ensure the provisos remain in the final budget and give the LCB a shot at bringing sanity to the medical market.