Medical marijuana advocates are divided on a bill that would give the state Liquor Control Board regulatory control over medical marijuana similar to what it has over recreational pot.
State senators met Tuesday to consider a bill that would task the liquor board with licensing and regulating medical cannabis dispensaries, processors and growers.
The bill also authorizes a 20 percent excise tax on the wholesale sale of medical marijuana or a 10 percent tax on the retail sale of medical marijuana if the grower is also the processor or dispenser.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who sponsored Senate Bill 5887, said the bill would close a loophole that would allow people to “sidestep” Initiative 502’s framework for legal recreational pot sales and buy cheaper marijuana at medical dispensaries.
Under I-502, the state will issue licenses to marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, with the marijuana taxed 25 percent at each stage.
The initiative, approved by voters last year, also established strict buffers between pot shops and places where children tend to go, and charged the liquor board with adopting rules on security and other safety measures.
Ezra Eickmeyer, a lobbyist with The Washington Cannabis Association, said his group helped craft Rivers’ bill. He said stricter regulation of medical marijuana is necessary in order to legitimize the cannabis industry and help itavoid legal troubles.
Don Pierce of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs agreed. His group opposes the proposal’s enhanced arrest protection for patients, but he said he generally supports efforts to regulate medical marijuana.
“I believe that the closer we can bring the medicinal market to 502, we stand the best chance at avoiding federal intervention,” Pierce said.
Federal law prohibits the sale and use of marijuana, and the U.S. Justice Department has not said how it intends to respond to legalization of recreational pot in Washington and Colorado.
Rivers’ bill would also change the amount of medical marijuana providers can sell. The law currently allows providers to use collective gardens to supply marijuana for up to 10 patients at a time. If SB 5887 is approved, that number would increase to 10 patients per day.
Most collective gardens are currently getting around the 10-patient limit by calling each customer a patient for only as long as the transaction takes.Opponents of the new proposal told lawmakers on the Senate Ways and Means Committee that the bill unfairly equates medicine with booze by putting the liquor board in charge of regulating both. Olympia citizen activist Arthur West said he believes the state Department of Health would be the proper agency to oversee medical marijuana.
Critics alleged the proposal is an attempt by bigger, more powerful growers to drive out the little guys.
“It’s a bad bill supported by a small group of industry representatives to allow them to corner the market,” West said.
Phil Wayt, a marijuana industry lobbyist with the Northwest Producers and Processors Association, which supports the bill, called it a starting point.
“This begins the discussion of how to combine and regulate the two platforms in the cannabis industry that appear to be on a collision course,” Wayt said.
Jimmy Lovaas: 360-943-7123