Olympia’s focus turns to medical marijuana

medical marijuana cannabis hbtv hemp beach tvWhile Washington is being celebrated nationally as one of the first states to legalize recreational marijuana, today in Olympia the medical use of marijuana is the topic on everyone’s mind.

A group of medical marijuana patients is planning to rally in protest Wednesday at the state capitol, and a lawmaker just announced plans to draft legislation that would regulate access to medical marijuana.

The protesters object to several things, but primarily an amendment included in the House and Senate budget proposals that would require the state Liquor Control Board to work with the Department of Health and the Department of Revenue to create recommendations about how to deal with medical marijuana.

“There is no other medication that is regulated and controlled by the Liquor Control Board,” said Steve Sarich, head of the Cannabis Action Coalition, in a statement. “They are absolutely unqualified to determine what is, or isn’t, in the best medical interest of medical cannabis patients.”

A spokesman for the board said medical marijuana is not the focus right now.

“They have all these specifics about what (the board) would do,” Brian Smith said. “We don’t know what we would do (about medical marijuana). We haven’t even gone there. We’re focused on recreational marijuana. If the Legislature wants us to take on medical marijuana the board will take it on then.”

Smith acknowledged that the board, including its director Rick Garza, are concerned about what the unregulated, untaxed medical marijuana market could mean for the introduction of a new, highly regulated, taxed market for recreational marijuana.

Garza has estimated as many of 90 percent of medical marijuana patients are actually using it recreationally.

Of course, the Washington state legislature hasn’t reached a budget deal yet and is trying to resolve differences on a two-year plan that is supposed to go into effect July 1. Medical marijuana – and any potential revenues – would be just one small aspect of the bigger state budget.

Even if the amendments on marijuana don’t go through when a state budget is passed, Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, of Seattle, said she is planning to draft legislation addressing the medical marijuana market for the 2014 legislative session.

“Although we have made steady progress on establishing a safe, reliable system for procuring medical cannabis, several areas need clarification, such as age limits, taxation of medical marijuana, collective gardens and regulation of health care providers,” Kohl-Welles said in a statement. “I intend to use the 2014 legislative session to make sure the system serves patients and also works within the context of the emerging landscape under I-502 implementation.”

Kohl-Welles has focused on marijuana legislation since the mid-1990s. In 2011, she proposed a bill that would have created a regulated system for growing, processing and distributing medical marijuana. However, then-Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed much of the bill over concerns about federal intervention in the state’s plans to create a legal medical marijuana market.

The result has been an untaxed, vague system that can be challenging for those who want to operate legal medical marijuana businesses.

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