Budget Mandated Study And Recommendation Of MMJ and I-502 Should Get Started
It’s there in black and white. Both chambers of the legislature had a version. The final language is a hybrid. The bottom line? In the biennial budget just passed, finally passed by the 2013 legislature, there is a provision directing the Washington Liquor Control Board (LCB) to “work with Department of Health (that now regulates Medical Marijuana, MMJ), and the Department of Revenue to develop recommendations for the legislature regarding the interaction of the medical marijuana regulations and the provisions of Initiative Measure No. 502.”
Advocates for the study, which shall be reported to the legislature by January 1, 2014, acknowledge the cumbersome intersection of Washington’s MMJ law and operation, now a decade old, a new, untested recreational use law (I-502) and a well established black market for cannabis. If and only if, Washington can shape a regulatory platform for recreational use that does not upset the existing MMJ program, and provides recreational users an easier, legal and more cost affective pathway to acquisition and use, will I-502 meet it’s proclaimed goals of a “new approach.” Also, with a near three million dollar general fund appropriation to implement I-502, the talked-about hundreds of millions of revenue better show up soon; thus Department of Revenue’s inclusion. In English, how can the state harness recreational cannabis with a 50-75% tax, make sure MMJ product does not leak into the recreational use stream, and end up with a quality product easier and cheaper than a street/blackmarket, half- century enterprise? Ah, the study will reveal the answer.
Unprecedented And Complicated
This is going to be a complicated process. Any changes to the I-502 law will still require a 2/3′s vote in both chambers. After the passage of an initiative, Washington State requires a 2/3′s vote for twenty-four months to amend the original language the citizens vote for.
A strict reading of the MMJ law reveals that there is no provision for a legal venue or location from which to sell MMJ. Yes. There is no mention of dispensaries, or stores. Changes to the MMJ law requires a simple majority.
Leakage, the flowing back and forth in the product and sale must be cleared up. If the state is to stay inside the lines of the recent Federal guideline, a bright line between MMJ and recreational production must be very bright. Some growers have openly suggested that a grow operation be allowed to have a recreational component and an MMJ component.
The agencies will be working together going forward. Although the study language left out the role of the Department of Agriculture (DOA), it’s organic labeling devision will surely come to play. LCB staff members are in contact with DOA and have discussed the agency’s weights and measures regulations along with the organic designation process. With the vast revenue differences between recreational and MMJ it is clear Department of Revenue will play a major role in tracking and enforcing. But the price difference created by the taxes or lack of taxation on MMJ and recreational use laws will continue to raise questions about marketability of state allowed product and the black market. Although the agencies work well together, if the legislature does its job there will undoubtedly be “recommendations” that address the appropriate regulatory tools for each platform. Law, regulatory turf, functioning black market, and a new, strict tolerance by the the Federal Government’s recent statement that they will not block our regulatory scheme, all contribute to a huge task for the state agencies and the study.
If any meaningful recommendations about “interaction” of MMJ, and recreational cannabis use platforms is to be forthcoming, the agencies should start now. The budget language directs the LCB to work with other agencies. It does not specifically appoint the LCB the lead on the study, but the language is in their section of the budget. LCB Director Rick Garza told us that he does not see the LCB as the “lead” on the study. In a recent phone interview Garza said, “We really are one government aren’t we? We will see to it it is an inclusive process, but we don’t see ourselves as running the show.” During the same discussion Garza admitted that he and the agency staff have “nothing specific” right now to suggest for changes to MMJ. We are not as familiar with MMJ as Health (DOH) and will look for input from them. We still have the Gregoire vetoes to the MMJ law to look at. But we have no preconceived suggestions at this point.”
One of Garza’s boss, Governor Inslee, may have loaded up the director’s cart a little with a statement that there are “serious questions” about the existing MMJ process in Washington. Governor Inslee went further during his press conference regarding US A.G. Holder’s statement about how the US Government will handle recreational use states like Washington and Colorado when he said, “Medical Marijuana laws need revision. Technically you can not buy MMJ in Washington State.”
A Short Election Year Session: 2014
The practical reality is that with a short, sixty-day election year session scheduled for 2014 any major legislation or controversial statute amendments better be well down the work process by December. If the LCB is serious about the proviso, and we think it is, any recommendations should be reported to the legislature in the late fall.
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