Medical marijuana overhaul will close dispensaries and shift patients to I-502 retailers

Capitol Hill celebrated the passage of I-502, which brought about the medical marijuana overhaul (Image: CHS)

Capitol Hill celebrated the passage of I-502, which brought about the medical marijuana overhaul (Image: CHS)

The green cross has grown into a symbol of the marijuana medical marijuana industry

The green cross has grown into a symbol of the marijuana medical marijuana industry

Last week, Governor Jay Inslee enacted the most sweeping overhaul to the state’s medical marijuana system since voters first approved it in 1998. It was an effort to bring the mostly unregulated medical marijuana system in-line with the highly regulated recreational one.

For Seattle’s non-patients, the most noticeable change might be an urban landscape suddenly devoid of signs bearing green crosses.

Shutting down medical shops will also mean putting some people out of a job including workers and owners at a handful of Central District dispensaries.

Shy Sadis, who claims ownership of 10 dispensaries including Starbuds at 23rd and John, said nearly all of his 80 employees could be out of work if the state doesn’t establish a pathway for medical shops to re-open as retailers.

“I wish medical could stay, but if it’s going, I’m going to have to make the transition to full I-502,” he said. “I’m hoping they will give us I-502 licenses for shutting us down.”

Many of the city’s medical marijuana dispensaries are expected to close by July 2016 under the reformation act, though the overhaul does pave pathway for some to transition into recreational shops. I-502 shops already in operation will be able to obtain medical endorsements to sell medical marijuana to card-holding patients tax-free.

For patients, the new regulations mean collective gardens will basically be gone by next year and but limited home grows are allowed. Under the old system, large grows that operated on the fringes of the law were occasionally shut down by police.

Now, growers that have remained in good standing with the state will be given priority to keep their gardens as 60-plant, four-patient cooperatives and patients will be able to grow up to four plants at home.

Patients who sign up for a newly created voluntary registry will be allowed to grow an additional two plants at home and posses three times the amount of marijuana allowed under I-502.

Starbuds

Starbuds

Owners at a handful of other medical dispensaries around Capitol Hill did not return CHS requests for comment on how they’ll be planning for what could be, their last year in business.

I-502 shop owners say the largely unregulated medical shops as unfair competition to their highly regulated businesses. Uncle Ike’s owner and CHS advertiser Ian Eisenberg said he supported Inslee’s recent changes to the law, but is waiting to see how a separate bill dealing with taxes shakes out.

Under HB 2136, the current three-level tax system on I-502 growers, producers, and retailers would be collapsed to one point-of-sale tax. It would also stop retailers from essentially getting “double taxed” by switching from an excise tax to a sales tax, in theory bringing down the price for consumers.

“It needs to be a level playing field and patients need to have access to medicine they trust,” Eisenberg said.

Details on the training and referral process recreational shops will need to follow will eventually be set by the state liquor board, changed to the Washington state Liquor and Cannabis Board under the new law. Eisenberg said he would wait until those rules were ironed out before deciding whether or not to make medical marijuana part of his business.

As Washington state refines its legal marijuana policies, the drug/medicine still remains very much illegal at the federal level. On Saturday, May 9th, marijuana activists will again gather at 11 AM at Volunteer Park for the Seattle Cannabis Freedom March to call for an end to federal prohibition. In 2014, the fight for medical access was the focal point of the event.

“Small farmers are a vast and diverse group. Patients have to be growers and farmers. It’s a symbiotic relationship and a healing lifestyle,” Farmer Tom said in 2014 (Image: CHS)

“Small farmers are a vast and diverse group. Patients have to be growers and farmers. It’s a symbiotic relationship and a healing lifestyle,” Farmer Tom said in 2014 (Image: CHS)

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39 thoughts on “Medical marijuana overhaul will close dispensaries and shift patients to I-502 retailers

  1. Mark Klieman’s goal has been reached,,he gave Washington a recreational market that isn’t working and state legislators are destroying the MMJ program,,win,,win for the ONDCP and DOJ that sent Klieman to you.

  2. So does that mean the recreational shops that also meet the qualifications/requirements to sell to patients as dispensaries did still have the same location requirements as current recreational shops? I mean, do they also have to be 1,000 feet away from schools, parks, etc.? Because it seemed the medical shops were in more convenient locations.

  3. The state and legal shops are getting their way, shutting down medical shops and making the money grab. This sucks for medical marijuana patients. Less availability, less product options, and for a much greater price. I understand the medical shops have gotten away largely unregulated, but completely shutting down the entire system is a total bummer. Most of the shops staff Ive talked to don’t believe their business can afford to become a legal store, as the state has thus far made it unaffordable. This may change, and medical operations could consider going legal, but edibles, oils, and BHO products that medical patients currently have access to will become largely unavailable or extremely expensive.This will only make the black market much larger, and prevent medical patients access to the types of medicine they have relied on for many years.

    • LOL…. Give me a damn break.

      If you cannot make money even with a 36 percent taxation, you dont know how to run a business and shouldnt be running a shop anyways.

    • The entire medical weed is a total joke,

      Yes there is about 10% of real patients and in the long run they will be much better served by a legal market.

    • Ever hear of mental illness you moron. MMJ has kept my Bipolar in check. My family has a history of suicide and murder. Just trying to stay sane. But assholes like you and most of Seattle are playing with fire if my meds are disrupted.

    • The efficacy of medical weed on bipolar/affective disorders is still up to debate. I myself noticed a worsening of rapid-cycling emotions after cessation of medical marijuana during a brief system cleansing and time of non-use. Utilizing cognitive therapeutic emotion regulation techniques in lieu of medical marijuana was equally effective, and in the long run has made me more self aware of symptoms and how they effect my day-to-day.

  4. There shouldn’t be two systems, they should roll both into one. However, the overly-restrictive regulations on store locations should be reevaluated.

  5. Considering most of the people I personally know with green cards have no medically-justified condition (seriously? Acute Anxiety Disorder? What kind of made-up BS is that?) for having a card in the first place, I’ve always suspected the MMJ system had serious flaws. Regulation of the market will be a far better thing in the long run, in that only people with REAL medical necessity should qualify.

    • do you understand at all the difference between MMJ and Rec MJ??? Didn’t think so!!!!! I was looking into being a Medical MMJ Advocate but WA just threw that profession and added patient benefit out the window, with Rec MJ no one cares…. they just want to get “high”

    • ” most of the people I personally know with green cards have no medically-justified condition”,,,,, Oh Really?. Well everyone I know who has a Dr’s Recommendation for MJ has a qualifying condition, so there is 0 fraud in the MedMJ system, and you think it’s a good idea to force these people to do with less medicine and be forced to pay higher prices for their medicine???And even be placed in a state database, are the recreational users entered into a database ?

    • To even suggest there is “0 fraud in the MedMJ system” is not only a complete fabrication, but flies in the face of what is common knowledge about how the system operates. It is quite simply the elephant in the room no one on the MMJ side wants to acknowledge.

      Currently, I can walk into an unregulated MMJ dispensary, spend five minutes with a “practitioner” who has no medical qualifications whatsoever, and by slapping a couple hundred bucks on the table receive a “diagnosis” for some ill-defined and (so far as I can tell) completely bogus “condition”, based solely on describing vague symptoms such as: “anxiety”, “sleeplessness”, “poor appetite”, or whatever, ALL of which are technically considered “qualifying conditions”, because there’s currently no oversight in the system to dictate otherwise. The abuse of this is rampant and egregious, everyone involved KNOWS it, but of course few of them will admit it, because it’s a source for tremendous of revenue flowing into the MMJ market; understandably, they want the $$ and they don’t seem to care all that much whether it comes from those with medical need or not.

      The point of the registry, as I understand it at least, is to establish legitimate medical need, which in turn would qualify those individuals for marked discounts, probably in the form of exemption from paying the same taxes as recreational users do currently. And while I understand the reluctance of people wanting to go on such a list, the fact is we already track patients who receive prescriptions for opiates, precisely in order to ensure these substances are not abused, but also are being used by those who actually NEED them. And given the clear public opinion trend towards decriminalization/legalization of cannabis, PLUS the fact the feds have essentially taken a completely hands-off approach to legalization thus far (the busybody GOP in D.C. not withstanding), this fear of “being on a registry” is, frankly, starting to sound a little paranoid. I’m all in favor of people with legitimate medical need having ready access to MMJ at a reasonable cost, but in an unregulated market such as exists currently, there simply too much room for rampant and egregious abuse – which IS in point of fact occurring; it’s simply undeniable, and has been pretty apparent for quite some time.

    • I’m sorry, I agree, the medical MJ system is a joke. I have an authorization letter and actually prefer vaping of high-CBD/low-THC strains. For those who don’t know, CBD is the component that imparts various medicinal benefits such as pain relief, without so much the “high” or euphoria of the high-THC strains. Quite simply, I just don’t like being high.

      I’ve been to several dispensaries (established, respectable ones) where I’ve been told, straight-faced, “Yeah, we don’t really stock those. Nobody wants them”. HUH? The strains high in the component that imparts medicinal benefits, and nobody wants them? Gee, why could that be? Perhaps because maybe 10% of dispensary patients are really looking for medicinal effects, and 90% just want to get high– could that be it? Now, let me just say this– I’m totally in favor of anybody smoking, vaping, eating, etc MJ whether it’s recreational or medical. But don’t anyone try to convince me most MMJ patients are really looking for MJ as medicine. You can’t even say that with a straight face. Spare me.

    • “What’s Acute Anxiety Disorder?” You don’t think mental illness is real? I’d be happy to take you on a walking tour of the neighborhood any time. I suppose you wonder what cancer is too, huh?

    • Mimi,

      I am very well aware that mental illness is real, but in every instance I’m aware of such a diagnosis is made by a certified medical professional who has been trained in the practice.

      “Acute Anxiety Disorder”, just to cite one common example of a “diagnosis” used by the MMJ industry, is simply a vague catch-all term for such a wide spectrum of conditions that it’s almost literally meaningless, and the primary reason it’s so easy to make for people seeking Green Cards who otherwise wouldn’t qualify. Given that more than 20% of the U.S. population can currently be diagnosed with the syndrome, one has to wonder at what level of commonality does a “disorder” become simply a normal state of being?

      But be that as it may, let me ask you a question in return: what are the current medical qualifications for someone working in a MMJ dispensary diagnosing people who walk in the door looking for cheap pot? Do you know what’s required, for example, to become licensed as a Naturopath in Washington? Just saying, “I’m a naturopath!”; no degree, no diploma, no certification; just use the word “naturopath” or any variation of the term as a description of the “services” provided and anyone who claims to be a naturopath can receive a State license that qualifies them to use the title “health care professional”, which in turn is a requirement for dispensing MMJ in this State.

      And to make matters worse, many of these so-called “health care professionals” don’t even bother to follow the proscribed diagnostic procedures required under current law. Do they perform a medical examination of the potential patient? Do they request documentation of the condition from the patient or provide such documentation to them? Do they inform the patient of other non-cannabis related forms of treatment and do they document the effectiveness of such optional treatments? If they don’t do ALL of these prior to handing over the card, they’re breaking the law – and I would bet good money that in many, if not in fact most, dispensaries these procedures aren’t followed. How else to explain all the people who walk into a dispensary, spend a few minutes describing a list of “symptoms” that aren’t verified by any sort of testing, examination, or documentation, and walk out moments later with a MMJ card (AFTER paying the requisite “examination fee”, of course!) That’s why the State is pushing for increased regulation of the MMJ market, because right now there’s no oversight whatsoever, and many dispensaries are simply abusing the system because the CAN and know there’ll be absolutely no consequences as a result.

    • Comte,
      I could be wrong, but I think you are mistaken in your belief that any old employee of an MMJ dispensary can authorize a patient. I’m pretty sure it needs to come from a doctor or physician’s assistant. They may provide you a referral to a practitioner who can authorize, but I don’t think they can do it themselves. The legitimate dispensaries (that comply with the law) won’t even let you in the locked door without a verified authorization letter.

    • Comte, I think you have summarized the current state of affairs at MMJ dispensaries quite accurately. I’m the last one to support the fraud that is going on, but I do want to clarify that most of the “clinics” in these dispensaries are staffed by licensed naturopaths or PAs. The problem is not so much that they are not qualified to assess a patient, but more that they have very limited time to do so, usually lack any proper medical documentation of the patient’s history, and have a huge financial incentive to stay employed at the clinic. The result is that they ok an authorization based on the patients’ claims, which are often bogus. This is unethical, bordering on malpractice, and needs to stop…..which it will if the MMJ dispensaries either close or are rolled into the retail system. It’s very unlikely that the latter will hold the authorizing “clinics” and repeat the same old problem.

    • As I stated in a previous comment, the problem isn’t that Naturopaths aren’t licensed by the State, but rather that obtaining a license is ridiculously easy; literally anyone can get one simply by declaring that they provide naturopathic services. They don’t need a degree, they don’t need board certification, and they don’t need any sort of biomedical education or clinical training; in fact, many “traditional” practitioners eschew such evidence-based standards as being anathemic to the entire purpose of naturopathy. In short, it’s a joke how easy it is to become licensed to dispense MMJ under the current system.

    • In the totally unregulated medical marijuana market, there has been widespread abuse. All someone had to do to get an “authorization” was to go to a dispensary, have a (cursory) visit with a provider, pay a (substantial) fee, and then shop in that same store for the pot. I suspect very few “patients” were turned down, as the dispensary has a strong economic incentive to be sure they are approved. Also, it is well-documented that some of these places sold pot without asking for proof of age or a green card.

      It’s about damn time the medical market was held to account. It’s too early to tell, but I would guess that bona fide medical patients will be able to get the pot strains they prefer at the recreational stores, and that it won’t be that expensive because they will get a significant tax break if they sign up for the state registry.

    • Nobody gives a shit about the people you know. The people with actual medical conditions just got shafter bigtime. Even your friends, they weren’t hurting anything other than the tax collector’s bottom line.

      WA screwed legalization and now neutered medical, a shining example of how not to enact either going forward for other states.

    • Well, if the people with legitimate medical need and those providing cannabis to them had gotten their shit together sooner and self-regulated the market, they wouldn’t have to go through this now. But, the fact is, the true patients got lazy, their providers got greedy, they all allowed the system to become rife with fraud and abuse, and now they’re all going to have to suffer through the proposed changes.

  6. I love it how the asshat politicians use terms such as “overhaul”,,,”repair”,,,,”reform” to describe how they are fcuking over the MedMJ people. The only people who were not happy with the MedMJ system that has been functioning for 15+ years are the Tax collectors and the Non-Medical stores. In NO way does this legislation serve the MedMJ people, it’s one big ” screw you” from our Legislators,,,,remember that come election time.

  7. This is excellent. It needs more oversight, and we need less places selling this stuff with more regulation. Also, people are always talking about the huge tax benefits. Let’s make sure the truly recreational users are paying these taxes that are supposed to help us all so much. And yes, I’m not much in favor of the stuff anyway. I do want people who need it for medical reasons to have access, but voters were promised that we wouldn’t have to deal with people smoking in public and that provision has gone almost entirely unenforced. I don’t care what you do on your own time, but let the rest of us enjoy our air without the smell or without being exposed to your drugs.

    • Yeah, besides as we all know, exhaust fumes from automobiles, power generation, and industrial activities are soooo much healthier to breath in than all that icky, icky Maryjuwanna smoke!

    • Dear Comte,
      So tired of this logical fallacy. Just because things like exhaust fumes are bad to breathe, it doesn’t make marijuana not bad to breathe. Marijuana smoke also doesn’t block any of those toxins you’re talking about, so an either/or comparison makes no sense and is not a good argument. Some things I have no choice but to breathe–cars are going to use the roads. Citizens voted to have marijuana not smoked in public. We had a choice. We voted. That needs to be respected by the citizens who use marijuana and the authorities who enforce those regulations. Pollute your own lungs in private spaces, please or eat brownies wherever you choose.

  8. As a matter of fact, a recent article in the august journal Scientific American referred to a report published by none other than the American Medical Association, which cited a study on casual cannabis smoking performed by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco. The study demonstrated that inhaling small quantities of cannabis smoke, even on a daily basis, may actually be BENEFICIAL to pulmonary health, by increasing lung air-flow rates and lung volume.

    So, your argument that marijuana smoke is as bad to breathe as exhaust fumes would appear to have been quite handily discredited.

    You are of course free to ignore the science, but on the other hand, if you find yourself coughing and wheezing over the putrid, exhaust-polluted air you’re breathing, and you happen to catch a whiff of some really skunky bud nearby, you might want to consider moving a little closer – for the sake of your lungs’ health, that is.

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  10. Marijuana should be taxed like tomatoes and produce at grocery stores. One thing that medical MJ proved to the people is that it is easy to produce(non complex) and cannot be regulated without mafia tactics by greedy governments. A 30x 40indoor area can generate enough MJ for a small city. With property rights and our privacy rights there is no way to legally find grows without breaking laws. Currently I bet their are over 60,000 home grows in the seattle area alone. If the government gets to greedy with home grows then the BC bud will be coming back x10. It went away because of medical. It won’t go away with 502. Legalize MJ for all. No taxes except regular sales tax. This is the only solution that will work because of the non complexity of MJ.

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