Spotlight on Washington: Medical vs. Recreational

As the legalization of recreational use of Marijuana spreads across the United States, many are speculating about the onslaught of changes it will bring. Marijuana use in the medical field is far from news, as the medical properties of marijuana have been used in the pro column in the discussion about legalizing recreational use- but how will it affect the patients?

Then

smokingpagoda-spotlight-on-washingtonWashington state has had medical marijuana on the law books since 1998. While it was a step in the right direction, at first this legalization was lacking. It only created an affirmative defense for patients. This means that a patient could be arrested for possession; however, if they are authorized by a healthcare provider to posses a 60-day supply, then they had a valid legal defense in a trial.

Since medical marijuana use has been so unregulated, many dispensaries around the state began popping up, and the police only regarded them as a nuisance. Their attitude was just shy of turning a blind eye because it was the only alternative to patients buying off the street. It was a flawed system, which is only part of the reason most people can’t say medical marijuana without the air quotes.

Another reason for the bunny ears surrounding that phrase: Without regulations, a medical patient could possess up to 24 ounces! That may be enough to share… Unless your illness is pretty serious.

Now

Voters legalized recreational use in 2012, with the first recreational shops opening in July of 2014, and after all the bureaucratic yellow tape is circumnavigated, the new regulations will be in place by July 1st of 2016. Once the first recreational shop took root, many advocates and skeptics alike have had questions regarding medical use. How will the cost compare? What are the rules on possession now? Will patients have a different set of rules?  Now, let’s talk about the go-to question.  

What Will it Cost?

Most of the pro-legalization arguments from “responsible members of the community” come from a “they’re gonna tax the hell out of it anyway, might as well!” type attitude. This might prove to be a sentiment that is both accurate and worrisome for medical users.

Considering that medical marijuana used to be untaxed and unregulated-well, duh responsible community members! By 2016 medical patients will be part of the retail rules, paying roughly 37% sales tax. Post-legalization but, pre-regulation, some shops gouged tax as high as 50%.

Many see the costs of recreational marijuana as simple as supply and demand within the regulations. Dramatic price sensitivity has been seen within this newly emerging market: Estimates being tossed around as much as fifty percent reduction within the last 12-15 months. With prices varying that wildly, maybe even beating the illegal market, how hard is this really hitting the medical users?

According to medical growers, the cheapest weed is selling for $125-$140 per ounce whereas the cheapest in the more popular Seattle stores is around $190. For a medical user on a fixed income, that difference could really add up- especially if there are patients using 1-3 ounces per week. Which brings us right to…

Possession

Under the new regulations, registered patients go from being able to carry 24 ounces down to three. If you aren’t willing to sign up for the state medical marijuana registry, then you are limited to just one ounce- same as the recreational users.

Joe Mascaro is a medical patient who also legally grows for a small goup of people. Speaking from experience, he says, “For you or me, three ounces seems like a lot. For a cancer patient, they can go through it like that, easily.”

While this is seen as a negative impact on the medical community, law enforcement sees this regulation as perfectly reasonable. Increased availability should mean that there is never a reason for one person to have 24 ounces at a time. Perhaps the assumption is that 24 ounces will be leaning into the illegal sales and cultivation, which is the lawmakers ultimate goal.

Local attornies and law enforcement agents have said, off the record, that the 3 ounce limit is not a practical limitation. Because of the circumstances surrounding this regulation, it is unlikely that violations of this rule will be enforced unless another crime is committed.

There is no doubt that a change is gonna come, but to whom will the benifits outweigh the cost?