Tacoma offers a good example of how “medical” marijuana sales are sabotaging Washington’s experiment in legalizing and regulating the drug.
For each licensed, regulated marijuana shop in the city, there are eight or more unlicensed and illegal “medical” dispensaries — at least 58 and likely more. Blame the City Council, which has let the trafficking fester openly for five years now, but also blame the Legislature for making it so easy for opportunists to game the medical marijuana law across the state.
Lawmakers may be about to make it less easy. The Senate has approved a strong bill that promises to wring the profiteering and quackery out of what had been — pre-toleration — a humane and narrowly tailored state policy. If it isn’t weakened in the House, Senate Bill 5052 could return medical marijuana to its original focus: bona fide patients, not common pot users and dealers.
Part of the plan is to be straightforward about the bogus “patients,” treating them as people who simply want to legally get high on pot. Initiative 502 was designed with them in mind; it lets them buy inspected, taxed marijuana from the new licensed stores.
The first step is to make it tougher for healthy people — vigorous teenagers among them — to get medical authorizations to use marijuana for vague complaints of pain.
The bill aims to shut down the quacks — often naturopaths and nurse practitioners — who will hand out a so-called green card to virtually anyone for $100 or so.
Under the bill, an authorizing professional must be the patient’s documented “principal care provider or specialist.” The condition must be life-impairing. The patient would have to be seen in person, not by Skype.
One word is critically important: The prescriber could not run a practice that consists primarily of authorizing marijuana. Watch for attempts in the House to substitute the word “solely” for “primarily” — which would let pot docs stay in business by doing a bare minimum of something else on the side.
Under the bill, practitioners would have also to document how they tried to treat patients without marijuana. And they’d have to tell their professional disciplinary boards if they issued more than 30 authorizations in a single month.
These restrictions would help clean up medical marijuana upstream, where the fraud starts. Downstream, the bill would fold legitimate medical marijuana into the regulated retail system.
There’s no reason a store that sells recreational marijuana can’t also sell medical marijuana — the dispensaries themselves have demonstrated that. Nor is there a reason someone who knows medical marijuana can’t work in a licensed shop or farm.
SB 5502 would let the legitimate operations earn a special endorsement that certifies expertise in dispensing genuinely therapeutic strains of marijuana. These typically have high ratios of a chemical — cannabidiol — that doesn’t leave patients stoned and doesn’t attract drug-seekers.
If the Legislature sends the Senate bill to the governor as is, all will be well.
But the House can be counted on to try to make it more dispensary-friendly or marijuana-friendly in general. One proposal, for example, would legalize marijuana gardens in every house. A grow-op-in-every-basement provision would make it even harder to keep pot out of the hands of adolescents — and would likely trigger intense interest in the U.S. Justice Department.
It should be obvious that Washington is not hurting for lack of marijuana. Right now, the Legislature’s priority should be regulating it and keeping it away from minors — which means driving a stake into the heart of the illegal dispensary industry before it metastasizes further.