Politics & Government

Washington health officials: Steer clear of medical claims about marijuana

Tim Moisio weighs a medical marijuana order at Triple C Cannabis Club in Tacoma on Nov. 19, 2014.
Tim Moisio weighs a medical marijuana order at Triple C Cannabis Club in Tacoma on Nov. 19, 2014. Staff photographer

State-licensed marijuana sellers will be able to offer their products for medical use by next summer, but they won’t necessarily be able to label them as though they were medicine.

Rules dating to 2013 prevent license holders from claiming on labels or advertising that pot has “curative or therapeutic effects.”

Now come stopgap rules that will further restrict medical claims for businesses wanting a sort of public-health seal of approval on their products. State health officials announced the rules this week as part of implementing a new state law meant to close unlicensed medical-marijuana shops by July 1 while letting licensed shops cater to patients.

The new rules cover licensees that want access to a logo certifying safety and hygienic practices. The rules will keep that logo off of any label using words or images “commonly used in or by medical or pharmaceutical professions.”

“Prescription” and “Rx” are specifically called out as banned. So are a mortar and pestle, or the winged staff known as the caduceus. The rules are silent on whether “medical” or “medicine” are OK, and the state Department of Health that wrote the rules said it would be up to regulators at the state Liquor and Cannabis Board to interpret.

The limitations are fine with some in the hunt for a license.

Advertising for Triple C Cannabis Club in Tacoma focuses on “healing” and “wellness.” Medical claims and symbols, owner Brian Caldwell said, are “antiquated.”

“It’s part of an immature market and we’ve all evolved. The professionals in the market have evolved,” said Caldwell, who also leads a trade group.

The new rules are temporary but the Health Department is in the process of setting permanent rules that are likely to be similar.

The rules are voluntary, but eventually, shops with medical-marijuana endorsements on their licenses will have to at least partially comply. At least one-quarter of their products will have to follow the new rules to keep their endorsements.

Medical endorsements will let shops cater to patients who participate in a new patient database created by the Legislature. Those patients will be allowed to buy more — and more potent — marijuana.

Products complying with the new rules will state prominently on their labels: “This product is not approved by the FDA to treat, cure, or prevent any disease.”

The Health Department notes in its rules that the federal ban on marijuana has stifled scientific research into medical benefits.

“We don’t want to give patients a false sense that this is accepted, approved medicine, because there’s no science to back that up yet,” Health Department policy counsel Kristi Weeks said.

Nor does the agency want labels to imply that certain products are only for patients, she said.

“We believe marijuana is marijuana and the only difference between medical and recreational is the intent of the user,” Weeks said.