Local medical cannabis providers ponder the future

Marijuana is on the mind of elected officials in Olympia these days as Initiative 502 (proposing recreational legalization for those over 21) is discussed ahead of a likely vote by the people in November. In addition, letters have been sent from Gov. Gregoire and 42 Washington lawmakers asking the DEA to reclassify cannabis as a Schedule 2 drug, which would verify its medicinal value at the federal level, allowing doctors to prescribe and pharmacies to distribute the drug. The Herald spoke with two local medical cannabis dispensary owners to get their take on how I-502 and reclassification could affect the industry. The initiative, if passed, would allow adults 21 and older to purchase marijuana for recreational use from stores licensed by the WA Liquor Control Board. The Board would also control manufacture and distribution, while the state would tax the sales, creating hundreds of millions in revenue to go towards public programs, according to backers.

The sticking point for many is the DUI provision, where people could be tested for THC (the main active ingredient in cannabis) levels in their blood. Opponents have said THC stays in the body far longer than alcohol, so the test would not be an accurate reading of impairment. John Davis, owner of the Northwest Patient Resource Center at the corner of 35th and Roxbury, said I-502 would likely have little effect on medical marijuana dispensaries or their patients.   “They will (medical marijuana dispensaries) still be there, they will be separate and distinct,” Davis said. “It comes up to the liquor control board to pass regulations and to figure out exactly which places are getting licensed. I don’t know if you will see places are both medical and recreational that work with cannabis … that will be up to the liquor control board.” Chris Cody, owner of Herban Legends on 16th Ave in White Center, said he hopes the initiative will provide a distinction between medicinal and recreational users, because he doesn’t believe his patients should have to pay the same 25 percent tax hike as recreational users. “I do not think medical patients should have to pay that and I do not think it would be particularly effective because the street stuff would still be cheaper,” Cody said, alluding to the possibility of recreational prices getting jacked so high that people look back to the black market to save money.

Gov. Gregoire sent a petition to the DEA asking them to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug on Nov. 30, 2011, “which will allow its use for treatment – prescribed by doctors and pharmacists.” Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the DEA, characterized by high abuse, no recognized medical value and a lack of safety in use. It is classified with heroin, LSD, MDMA and methaqualone.   Looking into the theoretical future, Davis said, “A doctor may at that point prescribe cannabis, but who is going to fill that prescription is anyone’s guess. If it is Schedule 2 a place that dispenses cannabis for prescription use will have to be a licensed pharmacy.” Under current Washington law doctors can recommend, but not prescribe cannabis treatment. “I doubt if Walgreens or Bartell have the infrastructure currently to supply cannabis as medicine and really have an idea of what that is to patients,” Davis added. “There are different types of cannabis and they can have very different effects. I don’t know if Walgreens is going to have a jar of quote-unquote ‘cannabis’ that they just dispense, but I doubt the medical validity of that approach.” Davis said it is possible that current medical marijuana dispensaries could become licensed pharmacies “that just dispense one type of medicine, but with cannabis you have many different subtypes in that model. Medicated edibles and tinctures and teas – there are many different models of ingestion – and I just don’t see Walgreens, in their current model, being able to stock something that would suit the needs of a cannabis patient.” Cody at Herban Legends said he sees reclassification effort as “misguided” because it would likely put medical cannabis distribution in the hands of established pharmacies. “There are a lot of different strains (of marijuana) out there and a lot are more condition specific than others (in alleviating symptoms), he said. “I don’t know if pharmacists and doctors would really understand a lot of this.”

via : West Seattle Herald

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