The marijuana landscape in Washington changes Friday when provisions of the Cannabis Patient Protection Act goes into effect.
The new laws and rules align the unregulated medical market with the regulated, licensed market created by Initiative 502 in 2012.
Medical dispensaries and their familiar green crosses will disappear as recreational stores take on the business of medical marijuana. Some products will change or be discontinued.
A new state database of registered medical marijuana users will be in use. Collective gardens will be replaced with cooperative gardens.
The News Tribune interviewed officials with the Liquor and Cannabis Board, the state Department of Health and industry leaders to sort out some of the changes.
Q: How many marijuana stores will there be come Friday?
A: 31 licenses have been issued in Pierce County and 22 in Thurston County. A total of 384 licenses have been issued statewide.
Q: Does that mean that they will all be open Friday?
A: No. The LCB has issued the licenses, but that doesn’t mean the stores all will be operating.
In some communities, such as University Place and Lakewood, local laws prevent their operation even if they have a state license.
In other cases, owners are still working on their stores or have not obtained all the required permits.
Q: Will there still be medical marijuana dispensaries in operation?
A: Maybe, although the law says they must obtain a state license to sell marijuana or they must shut down. Some of the licensed marijuana retailers will have medical endorsements — in Tacoma, those endorsements will be required of all shops.
Q: What does the medical endorsement mean?
A: That allows retailers to sell a range of products to medical users, sales tax-free. Those users must be listed in a state database.
Q: How many dispensaries will close?
A: That’s a hard number to pin down. As of June 2 there were an estimated 28 operating in Tacoma and as of 2015 as many as 80 in Pierce County.
Q: Who can buy regulated marijuana and marijuana products in the regulated stores?
A: Any person who is 21 years of age or older.
Q: Can an underage person enter a marijuana shop?
A: Adult medical patients ages 18-20 may enter a licensed store and make purchases if they have a medical marijuana “recognition” card showing they are in the state database. If they don’t have a card, and aren’t entering the store to get a card, they are treated like any other member of the public, even if they have a valid authorization from their health care practitioner.
A child who has a card or is in the process of getting a card can enter and remain in a medically endorsed store as long as the designated provider (who must be a parent or guardian) is present.
PATIENTS TO REGISTER WITH STATE
Q: What is the state database and who controls it?
A: The database contains the names of medical marijuana users who have opted to be registered with the state. Though DOH has oversight of the database, it will be managed by a third-party vendor, Tacoma’s cloudPWR.
Q: Who has access to the database?
A: Consultants, health care practitioners, DOH and cloudPWR will have full access. Retails stores, law enforcement, the Department of Revenue and the LCB will have access only to validate cards.
Q: How do I get a card?
A: Patients will be required to get an authorization from their health care practitioner. The form will come from DOH. A card (with photo) will be issued by a retailer that allows the user to get certain benefits.
Q: Is the authorization I have now still valid?
A: Yes, if it is the official DOH form that has been in use since July 2015. You will need to be entered into the state database if you wish to get the benefits provided by the card.
Q: Will the form list my qualifying medical condition?
Q: What benefits does the recognition card provide?
A: Holders can buy three ounces of usable marijuana (flower or bud), 48 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form, 216 ounces of marijuana-infused product in liquid form or 21 grams of marijuana concentrate. Those are three times the amounts that recreational buyers can purchase.
Q: What about tax breaks for card holders?
A: Card holders will not pay sales tax on any marijuana product, although they will have to pay the 37 percent excise tax all customers pay. The tax exemption is available only in stores with a medical endorsement.
Q: Card holders also get “arrest protection.” What does that mean?
A: That proves to law enforcement that you are allowed to possess higher amounts. But, while driving, marijuana products must be in the vehicle’s trunk. Also, keep the receipt with you. Marijuana cannot be consumed in public, and you cannot be impaired while driving.
SOME PRODUCTS COULD DISAPPEAR
Q: How will medical marijuana products change on Friday?
A: Currently, the state does not regulate the products sold in dispensaries. On July 1, all products sold — recreational and medical — will be regulated by the state. Some of the products customers can now buy at dispensaries will disappear because they contain dosage levels or amounts above those allowed or they are coming from unregulated manufacturers and suppliers.
Q: What will be the differences between medical and recreational products?
A: The state does not recognize a difference. But having a recognition card gives the holder access to more quantity and higher doses.
Q: What’s the differences in doses?
A: Recreational users can buy products with up to 10 miligrams of THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) per serving. THC is the compound that produces the “high” in users. Patients holding a card can buy products with up to 50 mg THC per serving.
Q: In what form do the higher dosage products come in?
A: Capsules, tinctures or concentrated solutions, transdermal patches and suppositories. No cookies or candies are allowed for the higher dosage products.
Q: Will edibles still be available?
A: Edibles will still be available in many forms including cookies, candies, cooking oils, sodas, seasoning salts, capsules, breath strips and tinctures. Except for the high dosage medical products, they will all be limited to 10 mg of THC per serving and not more than 10 servings per unit. So, a candy bar can still have up to 100 mg of THC as long as each serving is scored.
LOWER TAXES, MORE TESTING
Q: Beyond THC, what other cannabinoids will be available in products?
A: There are 80-plus cannabinoids in marijuana. Beyond THC, the second best known is CBD (Cannabidiol).
Q: What is CBD known for?
A: CBD is thought to have more medical properties than THC, and it does not produce the “high” that THC does. Anecdotal evidence and some studies suggest that CBD might reduce pain, inflammation and seizures.
Q: Can I buy it now?
A: Yes, it’s commonly found in medical dispensaries. Some products with CBD are available now in recreational stores, but they must contain some THC by law, otherwise they are considered hemp. There is no limit to the amount of CBD in a product.
Q: Will there be a tax break for CBD products even if you don’t have a recognition card?
A: In some cases. Products with high levels of CBD will not be sales taxed.
Q: What will the products in marijuana stores be tested for come Friday?
A: Microbials, foreign matter, potency and moisture content.
Q: What about pesticides and heavy metals?
A: Some of the products, but not all, will be tested for those. Testing is the decision of the manufacturer and/or seller and not required by the state.
Q: What’s being done to protect children?
A: Packaging and the products themselves are reviewed and approved by the LCB. Anything too bright, colorful or are otherwise enticing to children is rejected.
GROWING YOUR OWN
Q: Can I get an authorization form signed by my medical provider but not get entered into the state database?
Q: Why would I want to do that?
A: Having the form allows you to grow your own plants at home. The limit is four plants. The form also provides an affirmative defense to criminal prosecution.
Q: Will collective gardens still exist?
A: No. The law allowing collective gardens, intended to allow as many as 10 patients to band together to grow up to 45 plants, had been cited to justify dispensaries. The Legislature sought to eliminate what some considered a loophole by replacing the collectives with smaller cooperative gardens that must be registered with the LCB.
Q: Aside from the name change, what else is different with the gardens?
A: Up to four patients registered in the database can form a co-op garden. Each patient can grow up to six plants. So, a total of 24 can be grown by each co-op garden. The co-op garden must be at the home of one of the four participants. The plants must be bought from an authorized producer.
Q: What’s the point of a co-op garden?
A: Like any co-op, members can share the responsibility. But absentee caretakers will not be allowed — all members must participate in growing the plants. Also, if a health care provider approves, an individual who needs higher dosages can grow up to 15 plants. If all four members have that approval, they could grow up to 60 plants.
Q: Is it still illegal to possess, grow, buy or sell marijuana under federal law?
Q: So how can the state allow sales of marijuana?
A: The Obama administration has chosen not to enforce some federal laws in states where a vote of the people has legalized regulated marijuana production and sales. Still, conflicts remain that affect banking, transportation, taxes and federally managed resources.
Marijuana sales to date
Q: What is the current price of regulated retail marijuana in Washington?
A: The average price per gram for the legal market is around $9. That includes the 37 percent excise tax.
Q: Are prices going up or down?
A: They have gone down about 3 percent per month for the past year.
Q: How much legal marijuana have stores sold this year?
A: As of June 24 there had been $934 million in retail sales since July 1, 2015. That includes $178 million in taxes. Sales average $3 million per day.