Opinion

Using marijuana just got a whole lot safer

Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association.
Vicki Christophersen, executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association. Courtesy

On July 1 our state took a big step forward in supporting a safe, quality-controlled and fully regulated cannabis industry by expanding the system created by voters to include the totally unmonitored medical marijuana marketplace. That’s why we were concerned to read the July 17 story by The News Tribune’s Craig Sailor (“Bumpy road as medical pot joins recreational”).

In the article, some continue to claim, especially those who had a financial interest in fighting the implementation of a regulated medical marijuana system, that Washington residents and patients were somehow better off allowing a black market to compete with the legal marketplace created by state voters.

For the first time, medical products must meet the same rigorous safety requirements for pesticides, mold, bacteria and potency as the regulated, non-medical cannabis marketplace. Before this summer, unregulated medical dispensaries did not have to follow any standards in producing or selling their products. Unregulated dispensaries also did not have to pay taxes, eliminating much of the public benefit of creating a legal marketplace.

Recent testing by licensed businesses revealed that many medical producers were falling short of patient and consumer expectations, especially regarding pesticides. Now patients may purchase any product they need from a licensed retail marijuana business at a lower tax rate than general consumers with the confidence their medicine is held to a high standard of safety and quality.

Unfortunately, as Sailor reported, some continue to claim Washington was better off with totally unregulated medical marijuana dispensaries popping up all over town.

While we believe there is much more work to do to ensure patient needs are met, we know many familiar products already are available in licensed stores to support patients with a medical professional’s authorization.

Now is the time to collaborate on solutions that can credibly treat patients in need, not resort to unsupported anecdotes about the recent supposed good old days when marijuana was not subject to safety standards that we take for granted every time we buy a bottle of aspirin or an apple at the grocery store.

The work to successfully include the medical marketplace in the regulated industry did not end July 1. Several retail businesses want to train as many staff members as possible to serve patients, but logjams in the state medical certification process are taking more time.

State voters led the way in approving a regulated marijuana marketplace, and elected leaders have worked hard to implement regulations to protect all consumers. We believe more state resources are needed to support the Liquor and Cannabis Board’s mandate to regulate the cannabis marketplace so it can enforce the rules that protect patients and non-medical consumers.

We understand legal marijuana is a new concept in Washington. Many are skeptical that a legal marketplace will succeed, while others are cautiously optimistic and some remain outright opposed to the industry. Our members know public trust is earned by actions. That’s why we will continue to support local and state policies that prioritize public safety and strive to keep marijuana out of the hands of kids.

As other states consider creating a legal marketplace, we look forward to Washington serving as a positive example for eliminating the black market for marijuana by demonstrating professional standards for a safe new industry, which benefit patients and recreational consumers alike.

Vicki Christophersen is executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association, an organization that represents licensed and regulated cannabis producers, processors and retailers.

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