One local collective remains unworried facing medicinal marijuana’s uncertain future in Washington.
As I-502 ever-so-slowly makes its way into reality, so does a host of questions about what might happen to the medical marijuana structure that’s existed since voters approved Initiative 692 in 1998. While the state determines whom to license for recreational marijuana and the legislature decides whether it wants to reconcile the two industries, a lot of uncertainty exists in the future of medical marijuana.
Starbuds on E John and 24th Ave E has only served marijuana patients for about 10 months, but the business has found committed customers, a sense of community involvement and a healthy attitude about that might come.
“We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing until we’re told not to,” Steve Braeutigam, manager of Starbuds tells CHS. “Things are great right now and the rest of the country is looking to us as pioneers.”
For Braeutigam, a line in the sand exists between collectives and the coming recreational stores.
“There is a clear and distinct difference between medicinal and recreational marijuana,” he said. “We’re not doctors, but we have experience. We can speak to the product and lab testing.”
Employees at Starbuds review new research that might interest their patients and keep current on the most recent strains.
“To us it’s all about quality,” Braeutigam said.
And then there’s the human aspect about the work Starbuds provides. Braeutigam had stories of stage four cancer patients, pain-ridden elderly clients, and children in need of relief finding it at the collective.
“You can see tears in their eyes and you see that we’re making a difference,” Braeutigam said.
Assistant manager Janice Ibarra said she feels like she provides a needed service working at a medical marijuana collective.
“I have a sense of stewardship here,” she said. “We have a higher standard than you would find at a recreational store.”
So far, nothing has really changed since I-502 passed. This year, the legislature introduced a number of bills during the legislative session, which suggested everything from merging the medical and recreational systems (leg.wa.gov) to all-out banning collective gardens (leg.wa.gov). None passed.
Braeutigam is aware of the potential legislative throwdown which might compromise Starbuds and promotes a civic response.
“We’re encouraging our patients to write our legislators,” he said. “The legislature will bend to the those that are most vocal.”
Even though lawmakers largely sat on the issue during this election year, the writing is still on the wall — or, really on recommendations given to them by Liquor Control Board officials. The state entity gave eight recommendations to the legislature at the start of the session to provide guidance. They called for stricter age limits, a mandatory state patient registry and a lowering of legal possession amounts.
While the recommendations did not jeopardize the locations of current collectives by shackling them with the 1,000 foot zoning restrictions faced by recreational businesses, they did suggest a price hike. Patient would only expect “an exemption from state and local retail sales and use taxes on purchases by medical marijuana patients,” according to the recommendations, while the suppliers would be taxed at the same levels as I-502 entities.
Braeutigam isn’t frightened by the potential taxing or the I-502 competition.
“I do see change coming,” he said, but both managers did not think they would lose patients to other collectives any time soon.
“Honestly, I don’t see competition with other dispensaries as really a thing,” Ibarra said.
She said the customer service and good reputation would keep Starbuds and any other business that earned those things would survive.
“We find word of mouth is really effective,” Ibarra said. “It’s not just about building a brand but personal relationships.”
Even with the uncertainties facing the whole market, Braeutigam keeps his optimism.
“It just makes you feel good to serve the community,” he said. “It’s such a great opportunity in the world right now to do something and do something right.”
You can learn more at starbuds.com.