WASHINGTON: Last month I noted that marijuana legalization in Washington state has been hampered by the decision to create a new industry from scratch instead of building on the cannabusinesses that have been serving patients there for years. Last week state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), a longtime advocate for medical marijuana users, told The Seattle Times she plans to introduce legislation that aims to rectify that error by incorporating unregulated dispensaries into the system recently created for recreational consumers.
Medical dispensaries—which generally operate as “collective gardens,” an arrangement authorized by a 2011 law that Kohl-Welles wrote, although she did not intend that provision to cover commercial suppliers—outnumber and undersell state-licensed marijuana stores. Seattle, for example, has something like 200 medical marijuana suppliers (including delivery services as well as storefronts) but just a handful of recreational outlets. Recreational prices are nearly twice as high as medical prices, partly because of the hefty taxes imposed by the state: 25 percent at each of three levels, on top of standard sales taxes, which in Seattle total 9.5 percent.
Kohl-Welles’ bill would address both of these issues. It would lift the cap on state-licensed stores, currently set at 21 for Seattle and 334 statewide, and allow medical dispensaries to apply for licenses, phasing out collective gardens by August 2016. The bill would also cut marijuana taxes, which would be consolidated into a single levy collected at the retail level. Patients buying medical strains high in cannabidiol and low in THC would get an additional tax break.