Currently, access to medical marijuana in Washington is, for the most part, unregulated. If the recreational marijuana program in Washington is going to be successful, the Legislature must pass legislation regulating access to medical marijuana.
However, this legislation must regulate medical marijuana separately from recreational marijuana to protect patient access to medical marijuana.
As the Liquor Control Board moves forward in setting up a system to serve recreational marijuana users, it has become increasingly fearful that the state-licensed stores might not succeed because many of their customers are already being served by medical marijuana providers. If medical marijuana outcompetes recreational marijuana, the state-licensed stores will fail.
The fact of the matter is, medical and recreational should not be competing markets. Medical marijuana is supposed to be for people with terminal illnesses and debilitating conditions, while recreational marijuana is for everybody else who wants to use marijuana.
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However, when viewed as competing markets, medical marijuana has an unfair advantage over recreational marijuana.
Medical marijuana has been lawful for more than 15 years, and while there is disagreement as to what extent, it is an accepted fact that medical suppliers already supply many recreational users. Medical marijuana is, to an unbelievable extent, unregulated, while recreational is, also to an unbelievable extent, overregulated.
Medical marijuana is completely untaxed, while recreational marijuana will be overtaxed. Medical marijuana suppliers advertise extensively in slick trade magazines and on the Internet, while advertising for recreational marijuana suppliers is strictly limited by statute.
Are you starting to get the picture?
An important consideration of many people who voted in favor of recreational marijuana was increased revenue to the state by taxing marijuana. Our Legislature needs to give effect to the will of the voters and do what it can to make the recreational marijuana program a success.
However, the Legislature cannot eliminate medical marijuana or regulate to such an extent that it impossible to get. The Legislature also needs to give effect to the will of the voters who want medical marijuana to be available to people who need it as medicine.
Medical marijuana is not the same marijuana as recreational marijuana. Recreational users, who use marijuana to get high, are primarily interested with the level of THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana. Medical marijuana patients are more interested in the level of cannabinoids, the analgesic and curative component of marijuana.
Medical marijuana patients have different needs than recreational users. State law permits medical patients to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana. The Department of Health has determined that a 60-day supply is 24 ounces and 15 plants. Recreational users are limited to one ounce, and they cannot grow their own.
Medical marijuana is important medicine. Consider a sample of the latest scientific research.
• March 2013: Researchers at the University of California Davis Medical Center conducted a double blind placebo-controlled study and concluded that vaporized marijuana is helpful in treating neuropathic pain.
• April 2013: A United Nations Children’s Fund report found a correlation between decriminalizing cannabis and a reduction in youth usage rates.
• May 2013: The Journal of Leukocyte Biology concluded that THC is helpful in combating HIV.
• May 2013: The American Journal of Medicine reports that marijuana consumption may combat diabetes.
Space prohibits a more comprehensive list.
Clearly, the Legislature needs to level the playing field. However, the Legislature must also pay attention to the will of the voters and balance the competing interests of medical and recreational.
Jay Berneburg is an attorney who has practiced in Pierce County for more than 15 years and works extensively on marijuana issues.