Washington State Legal Cannabis Changes
Long Story Short
Washington state is mixing things up when it comes to legal cannabis. Back on July 1, a new set of rules for recreational and medical marijuana went into effect. The result of what these changes will accomplish is yet to be seen, but so far, Washington state seems to have taken the lead in experimenting with what the future of legal cannabis might look like.
Medical and recreational cannabis have both been legal in Washington state for a while now. But last year, lawmakers passed Senate Bill 5052. That bill was intended to merge the medicinal industry and the recreational industry. It went into effect on July 1.
Under the new rules, dispensaries are required to sell both medical and recreational cannabis together in the same shop. This new approach is creating a lot of changes for both consumers and retailers.
Changes For Dispensaries
To put it in the simplest terms, dispensaries in Washington state are now supposed to function basically as one-stop pot shops. And that can include everything from providing patients with consultations about their medical needs to selling medical cannabis products to giving people access to buds for recreational use.
To remain in operation under the new set of rules, all dispensaries must gain a “retail license” from the state. And to get that, they must have at least one trained consultants who are certified to work with patients. Existing recreational shops have the option to obtain the medical endorsement which allows them to accept medical card and offer consulstations to medical patients.
So far, it’s been much easier for recreational shops to get the state’s new medical endorsement and add medical service to their offerings. But it’s been a little trickier for medical dispensaries to make the transition. And this has left many patients feeling a little displaced and unsure of where to get the medicine they’re used to using.
The changes have also required many dispensaries to expand not only what their staff can do but the physical layouts of their shops as well. Take Paper & Leaf for example. The Bainbridge Island-based dispensary has recently converted its employee break room into a private consultation room where patients can talk to a trained consultant about their needs. And while this may help make it easier for new patients, many long-time medical patients remain unsure of their place in the new system.
Changes For Consumers
The biggest difference for consumers is that they can now access cannabis at a single shop (provided it has the medical endorsement) regardless if they need recreational or medical. A new medical patient can now visit a dispensary like Paper & Leaf, talk to a certified consultant, choose whether or not to have their name added to the state’s database of medical cannabis patients, and then pick up whatever medicine they need all at the same store.
For many consumers, it may make sense to switch over to the medical cannabis side. That’s because certified medical consumers can purchase up to three times as much cannabis as non-medical users. Rec users are allowed 1 ounce of dried bud. But a medical patient can have up to 3 ounces of bud, they are also exempt from paying state sales tax and they are officially allowed to grow up to 6 plants at home.
But the changes haven’t come without some growing pains. For starters, dispensary owners who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to switch over to get a retail license from the state were forced to shut down. This could happen for some reasons. If a shop was behind on taxes, if it was too close to a school, or if the limit of licenses allotted for each city was reached.
“There’s may different sides to this story,” said Brendan Hill, owner of Paper & Leaf. Hill is also well known as the drummer for Blues Traveler and has established himself as an all-around cannabis expert. “I feel very badly for those that had to close down.”
“I give real props to those dispensary owners who basically paved the way and took the risks 10 to 15 years ago that have been providing services and giving patients access, who have now had to shut down. These are the real heroes in the medical cannabis industry.”
And as medical dispensaries have shut down, it’s left some patients feeling abandoned. For patients who were already accustomed to getting the precise medicine and products they need from their local dispensary, the transition to the new system may not be so smooth.
The Final Hit
In the end, many in the cannabis community see this as a step in the right direction. “My personal feeling is that it’s a positive in that any time a state agency starts recognizing medical marijuana as something they need to license and need to make available, it reflects the changing general feeling that cannabis is a legitimate benefit to society,” Hill said. “For the whole system to move forward we have to go through these steps. This will hopefully create a snowball effect that will help overturn the stigma of cannabis and help it become nationally recognized as a legitimate medicine and as legitimate for adult recreational use.”