Attempts to impose new regulations on the medical marijuana industry in Washington State have died a tortured if temporary death.
A bill that would have abolished MMJ dispensaries across the state fizzled after House Republicans tried to divert money from the recreational weed industry to local governments.
The legislation passed the Washington House of Representatives in February. The Senate then passed a similar bill March 8. Both approaches would have ended dispensaries, cut limits on medical possession and cultivation, and required that patients register with the state.
The Senate bill was slightly more lax, in part because it would have shut down collective gardens later than the House version. The House bill would have closed them as of May 2015, while under the Senate proposal they would have been allowed to cultivate until September 2015.
Efforts to reconcile the two pieces of legislation broke down in negotiations after Republicans in the House tried to give revenue from the recreational pot industry to cities, towns and counties.
State Sen. Ann Rivers, who sponsored the Senate bill, said those on both sides of the issue were stuck in “immovable positions” that killed the bill.
“I’m disappointed, but I think that this gives us the opportunity for people to come together and say we must do something,” Rivers said. “Failure to act is not an option.”
The current medical weed market in Washington is largely unregulated. Voters approved MMJ in 1998, and the dispensaries that pepper the state operate under loose provisions that allow “collective gardens” – exactly what authors of the two bills sought to stop.
In 2012, Washington joined Colorado in sanctioning the first legalized, government-regulated, taxed marijuana on Earth. Adults over the age of 21 may now legally buy, possess and use up to an ounce of pot per person without civil or criminal penalties.
Colorado’s first pot shops opened their doors Jan. 1. The first stores in Washington will start doing business in the late spring or summer.
The entire system, from seed to sale, will be monitored and regulated by the state. And officials want to make sure they get it right: The federal government is watching closely and may intervene if the Obama administration doesn’t like what it sees.
That’s why state leaders are so eager to roll medical marijuana into recreational weed and regulate the two together. If the recreational system is tightly controlled but cannabis continues to slip through the medical system, the feds may decide to crack down on both.
Patients and their advocates want to see MMJ brought under control for the same reason.
“There is no easy, safe route here,” said Ezra Eickmeyer of the Washington Cannabis Association. “Without a bill, we have to worry about the feds taking action this year. That was something we were hoping to avoid.”