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Recommendations lump medical with recreational pot

Washington state considers rolling the existing medical marijuana program into the new recreational marijuana program.

If the Washington state Legislature adopts a working group’s recommendations, medical marijuana patients would no longer be able to grow their own marijuana and would have to buy it at a state-licensed store like everyone else.

The state Liquor Control Board and the departments of Health and Revenue have proposed a single system for both medical and recreational pot, eliminating the private gardens that have been allowed under the 15-year-old medical marijuana program and making all pot available only through state-licensed retail stores.

“Having two separate systems — one regulated and one not regulated — for one product is not efficient, nor is it in line with the Department of Justice memo (outlining federal concerns),” Liquor Control Board staff member Ingrid Mungia said at a Nov. 13 public hearing.

Medical marijuana advocates voiced their concerns over the recommended restrictions.

“The very real needs of medical marijuana patients cannot be adequately met by the recreational marijuana program and must be addressed by preserving and strengthening the law that currently exists,” Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said. “We’re urging Gov. (Jay) Inslee and the state Legislature not to abandon the tens of thousands of patients in Washington and continue to treat medical marijuana as a public health issue.”

Nicholas Pouch, a registered patient and small farmer in Western Washington, has been growing for his own needs. He said he cannot see how both the recreational and medical marijuana programs can operate in parallel.

“I believe medical will cease to exist, and I expect dispensaries to get shut down,” he said. “There has been some lobbying for operations to be grandfathered in. I’d like to stay optimistic, but realistically it’s going away.”

Besides removing patients’ and caregivers’ rights to cultivate medicinal pot, the proposals would place it under a tax structure similar to that created for recreational cannabis. The state will assess a 25 percent excise tax at three different stages, but would exempt medical marijuana users from the sales tax.

The recommendations will be presented to the Legislature by Jan. 1.



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