Things are about to change for Washington medical marijuana patients. Once recreational adult-use became legal, legislators recognized that something needed to be done to reconcile the medical and recreational programs. Last year, on April 24, the Governor signed into law SB 5052, better known as The Cannabis Patient Protection ACT (CPPA), coming into full effect on July 1.
The bill is an attempt by legislators to provide clarity on what constitutes medical use, while making sure qualified patients can obtain a sufficient amount of medical marijuana consistently and safely.
What issues does it seek to solve?
First and foremost, the new law codifies a regulatory structure for medical marijuana by marrying it to the more regulated recreational program, specifically:
- Providing consumer protections
- Revising the taxing code
- Shifting oversight of the program from the Department of Health to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board — in effect, merging the programs
What issues will it potentially create?
Americans for Safe Access (ASA) wasn’t happy with the proposed law and worked hard to pass an alternate bill, House Bill 2058. They mobilized advocates to petition the government to pass the alternate bill which they believe would have ensured licensing and oversight would occur within a dedicated framework designed specifically to protect qualifying patients.
Restricts Patient Access
Until the law soon goes into effect, medical patients — registered through the Department of Health — have been permitted to grow their own plants. With the new law in effect, patients could lose their ability to purchase clones, specific products, and strains they found most beneficial. This could include concentrates, high THC content edibles, and high CBD strains. They may also see a rise in their medical costs.
Community Doesn’t Like “Optional” Patient Database
Also, of concern is that patients will see their possession and cultivation limits reduced, unless they register in a government database. Critics argue the database violates patient privacy and could expose patients to criminal liability. Many in the medical marijuana community contend that compelling patients to register to access sufficient amounts of medication is essentially forcing them to admit to committing a federal crime and that disclosure of personal medical details violates privacy protections under Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).
Governor Inslee disagrees, and has sought to alleviate concerns on an FAQ page his office established. According to the Governor‘s office, “Privacy will be ensured at the highest possible level, and the database does not in any way violate HIPPA.” The Bill’s sponsor, Sen. Ann Rivers, contends the database is important so regulators can ensure there are enough stores providing medical cannabis to patients.
According to the Governor’s office, “The legislation allows cooperative gardens and requires the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to increase the maximum number of marijuana retail outlets.” Patients — up to four — can form a their own cooperative garden. They may cultivate and possess up to sixty plants and 72 ounces of usable cannabis.
The LCB will issue licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries who meet “reasonable criteria.” What’s reasonable, you say?
- A collective garden operator must be 21 years or older, has maintained a business license, has an established history of paying pertinent taxes, and doesn’t have a criminal history
- The dispensary can’t be located in proximity to schools, playgrounds or other similar buildings.
Retail licensees are permitted to sell recreational marijuana, only medical marijuana or both.
As is usually the case when the government enacts new measures, they’ll fix some things, while creating other issues people find problematic. Hopefully, legislators and the Liquor and Cannabis Board will resolve outstanding issues as soon as possible so that those most in need of medical cannabis won’t have to sacrifice protections or access.
Gov. Inslee maintains he’s committed to ironing out any issues that come. According to the Governor, “[T]o the extent further changes may be necessary to ensure a patient-focused, well run medical marijuana system, we’ll be able to do that in future legislative sessions.”
Adam Schmidt of Clear Choice Cannabis, a Tacoma, Washington-based recreational dispensary is upbeat about the changes:
Whenever there are changes to existing laws, there are going to be some growing pains, but we support the the new law and also plan to continue serving medical cannabis patients.” Schmidt continues, “We feel confident that Governor Inslee and state legislators will be responsive to the community and committed to ironing out any kinks that may arise.