Clear Choice Cannabis, a Tacoma, Washington-based recreational cannabis dispensary, welcomes Washington State’s Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which comes into full effect on July 1.
“I think we can all appreciate that merging the recreational and medical may present some challenges, but we feel it’s a step in the right direction,” said Adam Schmidt of Clear Choice Cannabis. “Over time, with the commitment of the Governor and state legislators, we feel confident any kinks that need to be worked out, will be. The medical cannabis market will evolve into what it should be for the people of Washington State.”
Schmidt believes despite some challenges, overall the changes are a positive. He added, “Prices are coming down; in some cases below what the medical industry was providing. The taxes being collected are helping Washington State rebuild important programs in local communities. And, the people of Washington State — by and large — have better and safer access to Cannabis whether it be for recreational or medical use.”
Washington State’s Cannabis Patient Protection Act
Gov. Inslee signed Washington State’s Cannabis Patient Protection Act — also known as SB 5052 — into law on April 24, 2015. After the state legalized recreational adult-use, legislators recognized the need to reconcile the medical and recreational programs.
Specifically, SB 5052 codifies a regulatory structure for medical marijuana which includes merging it with the recreational program and shifting oversight from the Department of Health to the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board. Additionally, the tax code has been revised and additional consumer protections have been put into place.
Not all constituents were excited by the new law. Several groups including the Americans for Safe Access (ASA) actively lobbied to pass an alternate bill, House Bill 2058. ASA contended that SB 5052 created restrictions that would adversely affect patients and dispensaries. They argued SB 5052 would have ensured that licensing and oversight would occur within a dedicated framework designed specifically to protect qualifying patients.
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 specific products while restricting possession amounts.
What is the “Optional” Patient Database?
Patients will see their possession and cultivation limits reduced, unless they register in a government database, a move critics argue violates patient privacy and could expose patients to criminal liability. The fear is that compelling patients to register in a state-maintained database would be akin to forcing them to admit violating federal law, while 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 by creating an Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page. “Privacy will be ensured at the highest possible level, and the database does not in any way violate HIPPA,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, a sponsor of SB 5052. Rivers added, “[t]he database is important so regulators can ensure there are enough stores providing medical cannabis to patients.”
State Will Allow Patients to Form Collectives
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.
State Will Issue Licenses to New Dispensaries
The LCB will issue licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries who meet “reasonable criteria.” Criteria is as follows:
- 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.
“The reason my partner, Shawn Sortland and I, started Clear Choice Cannabis in 2012 was to help people have access to alternative forms of medicine. Shawn having used cannabis for a multitude of back issues, while my brother passed away from an opiate addiction. This inspired us to set out on a journey to provide the very best quality cannabis products to our patients we cared so much for,” said Adam Schmidt.
Schmidt continued: “In November of 2013 the state opened their application process to become a State-licensed retail store. We became convinced going through this process was the only way we could continue to keep our doors open to our patients and to Pierce County
In June 2014 we were granted our State license and merged our medical collective into a retail store, which allows us to help more patients and consumers gain access to high quality tested cannabis.”
According to Schmidt, that while “it’s been a little rough getting this new industry off the ground, I truly feel that the time has come and the cannabis industry in Washington is getting better and better by the day.”
Gov. Inslee has expressed a commitment to supporting the industry and being proactive to working out issues as they may arise. According to the Gov. Inslee, “[T]o the extent further changes may be necessary to ensure a patient-focused, well run medical marijuana system is in place, we’ll be able to do that in future legislative sessions.”
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