Patients in Washington State will soon need to join a statewide registry if they want to get the full benefits of medical marijuana.

File photo of a medical marijuana starter plantGov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, signed a bill April 24 that seeks to bring the state’s MMJ system into line with the legal recreational market created by voters in 2012. The bill’s key provision establishes a statewide database of registered cannabis patients.

The law is also designed to move patients from reliance on loosely regulated medical weed collectives, which have dominated the marijuana market in Washington since medicinal cannabis was first approved by voters in 1998.

Without collectives, patients will have to use licensed dispensaries to get their medicine. These shops will be much more heavily regulated than the original collective system. Some patients will still be able to pool their resources, but no longer in large numbers, only in groups of four or fewer users.

Changes could protect patients

Though initially feared by many advocates, the changes may actually provide more protection to patients. A more tightly regulated medical cannabis market is less likely to attract the attention of overeager federal prosecutors, and that means less interference for patients.

What’s more, the law could help big-scale cultivators gain legitimacy, as it will provide licenses to the most respectable growers and processors, the kind that regularly pay their business taxes.

Historically, patients in Washington got their medical marijuana from small unregulated dispensaries that opened in the state’s most legally tolerant regions, especially Seattle. Other areas, such as conservative Eastern Washington, rejected the shops and actively worked to shut them down.

Easier access to MMJ

The new arrangement could make it easier for patients in those more restrictive regions to get medical pot that wasn’t available to them before. It could also close an important door to the black market, making legal marijuana safer all around.

“I am committed to ensuring a system that serves patients well and makes medicine available in a safe and accessible manner, just like we would do for any medicine,” Inslee said when he signed the legislation.

Washington PotThe law, especially its strict tax rules, could ultimately mean higher costs for some patients. But even many in the cannabis industry said the unregulated medical market was undercutting recreational businesses and providing product to black market dealers.

Patients could end up bearing the brunt

Not everyone is happy, however. Some providers and patient advocates say the higher cost and lower cultivation limits will put medicine out of reach of some patients, especially those who can’t or won’t join the state registry. Patients who join that database will be allowed to grow more plants and possess more weed than other patients, who will mostly be stuck with recreational rules.

“This is pejorative to patients while being friendly to those who are in the business of patients,” said Muraco Kyashna-tocha, owner of a former Seattle dispensary. “There are sincere patients who don’t have any money. They’re cancer patients who are being bankrupted by their treatment.”

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