Washington Medical Marijuana vs. Recreational Marijuana: How Will They Coexist?

With regulatory measures of recreational marijuana in Washington State in the process of being finalized, proprietors of medicinal marijuana are concerned about what it will mean for them.
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Washington was among the first few states to approve marijuana as medicine. However those who have long been involved in providing marijuana to patients suffering the ravages of cancer and AIDS worry that the restrictions placed on the drug for those simply hoping to get high will negatively impact access for those who rely on the substance for day-to-day use.

One of the greatest obstacles may be the heavy taxes expected to be imposed by the state. Another is the the imposition of limitations for how much of the drug patients can possess at any given time. Yet another is the end to collective gardens, which have been a primary source for so many patients. Stricter authorizations for medicinal marijuana could also be underway.

As one medical marijuana provider put it: “I’m a terrified that… the recreational users have thrown us under the bus.”

Some have voiced opposition to the fact that other types of medicine are not taxed in the same way; not even optional drugs, such as Viagra.

In November, Washington and Colorado became the first two states to approve legalized marijuana for recreational use. But both are still trying to figure out what that industry will look like.

Colorado’s medical marijuana industry was already subject to a sales tax, with some 110,000 registered patients paying a premium for the drug. Given the measures already in place, seems less likely there that the introduction of recreational marijuana will be as disruptive to medical marijuana providers.

Washington may be a different story. State officials and local lawmakers have said they are worried that licensed recreational providers may not be able to compete with medical marijuana dispensaries that sell marijuana untaxed and unregulated. Ultimately, they say, this could lead to a reduction in the cut that the state brings in.

Further, there are questions about how the U.S. Justice Department is going to respond to this potential conflict. The agency has said that it is going to permit states to implement tight regulations for marijuana, with the intention of keeping the drug off the black market. However, it’s not going to tolerate sales of the drug that are unregulated. Despite promises to back off, U.S. attorneys in both Spokane and Seattle have since said that the state’s medical marijuana system is “untenable.” This would seem to indicate that we can expect to see some change with regard to how the state handles medicinal sales.

Washington is somewhat notorious for its lax system of marijuana distribution, one of the most unregulated of all 20 states plus the District of Columbia that have so far approved the drug for medical purposes. Patients are not required to register. There is no formalized oversight of collective cultivation of the drug, nor is there regulation over the dispensaries that serve them.

This is where the state work group’s recommendations are going to be important. We will be closely watching to see what aspects they prioritize. Medical marijuana providers in Washington state wishing to insulate their operation should contact an experienced medical marijuana attorney.

The Washington State CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Medical-pot sellers fear being ‘thrown under bus’, Oct. 20, 2013, Associated Press
More Blog Entries:
Legal Marijuana Users: Caution When Crossing into California. Oct. 12, 2013, Washington State Marijuana Lawyer Blog