The Discussion Has Begun
Read in this morning and quietly dropped in yesterday afternoon, SB 5887 could be called a nineteen page rewrite of the state’s Medical Marijuana Law,MMJ. Advocates prefer lawmakers realize it is essential to “fix the loopholes in the law, provide millions in new taxes from the industry and protect I-502 revenues, all wrapped in an issue that has over 80% support from the public.”
Under today’s present MMJ law almost anyone can become a “qualified” patient and receive an authorization to purchase cannabis. Last week, Rick Garza, Deputy Director of the Washington State Liquor Control Board, LCB, told House Finance Committee members that over 90% of all MMJ purchases are fraudulent and are actually recreational user acquisitions. Stories of cannabis authorizations acquired during five minute virtual doctor visits via a computer hookup swirl around discussions of how MMJ and I-502 will, or can work together. These alleged, non-face-to-face authorizations then set a “patient” free to purchase unlimited quantities of “medicine” and/or grow up to fifteen plants for their own use. I-502 does not allow growing your own.
There is essentially little regulation on MMJ today. Dispensaries are not even mentioned in the thirteen year-old law, and legitimate retailers, growers and patients are hoping for a strengthening of the MMJ law, lest it be gobbled up by the LCB as they set the platform for the strictly controlled recreational use market.
The State’s Money
MMJ is not taxed except for some sales tax, which is seldom collected in the belief that cannabis is medicine and there is no sales tax on “medicine”. Again, the leakage of recreational users to the MMJ dispensaries costs the state needed revenue and will tease the fiscal projections for I-502.
The bill calls for a twenty percent excise tax on the wholesale transaction for MMJ.
Legislators and regulators contacted about the bill smiled. Everyone knows that something has to be done to handle what are at least serious allegations about the ease with which a person can acquire a medical authorization and then buy cannabis for personal use. Most admit the discussion needs to start, but as one legislator commented, “just because it has a tax in it does not make it doable; it’s a week to final policy cutoff, this is a huge policy decision.” It is impressive that the Senate Majority Leader is on the bill, noted another.
The bill was first mentioned to us by Ezra Eickmeyer, governmental affairs director for Washington Cannabis Association. In Eickmeyer’s email to Cannabis Wire he wrote, “It would be a huge win…to solve the medical marijuana issues and we applaud Senator Rivers for her leadership on this. With one bill (the legislature)…can fix the loopholes in the law, provide millions in new taxes from the industry and protect I-502 revenues, all wrapped in an issue that has over 80% support from the public. It’s being handed to them on the proverbial platter and Senator Ann Rivers, joined by Steve Litzow and Rodney Tom, have been insightful enough to grab it.”
“It would almost be political malpractice not to fix the medical marijuana issues right here and now for so many reasons. Under current law, for example, a 17 year-old could literally become a medical marijuana patient and open a dispensary without their parents knowing and while paying no taxes. It has to be made right and only the Legislature can do it.”
Will A Fix Keep Them Separate
Two weeks ago, Colorado’s Special Task Force on Amendment 64 (Colorado’s recreational use constitutional amendment) suggested strongly to their state lawmakers that the MMJ and the recreational use processes be merged. They detailed how the growing, processing and retail can work together. Washington is still on a glide path to allow separate platforms. As Washington regulators and policy makers dig deeper into the cannabis industry, it is clear something has to be done. An unregulated MMJ scheme, with no taxation, and a self-grow provision must be considered if the state is going to gain any of the control and revenue intended in I-502.
There is no hearing scheduled yet for SB 5887