WASHINGTON: The federal government has said it won’t challenge Washington and Colorado’s legal pot markets and Washington has just released its latest versions of the rules that will govern that market here. Both of those facts has medical marijuana advocates running for cover.
In fact, one thing two icons of Washington’s medical pot scene agree on is that, barring action by the Washington Legislature, medical marijuana – even as a ragtag system – is history.
Steve Sarich, a longtime medical marijuana firebrand, adds that patients in Washington are “justifiably scared” because of threats that state and federal law enforcement will go after any marijuana growing or selling that happens outside of the system created by I-502.
Meanwhile, a more sanguine Muraco Kyashna-tocha, founder of the oldest medical marijuana dispensary in Washington, Green Buddha, thinks the state system will flood the market with cheap pot and run both medical marijuana growers and sellers out of town.
“I expect to shut down next year,” she said. “I expect to be under-sold … I expect to be out-produced by the state.”
Wait, I thought cannabis was OK now
Sarich – who campaigned against I-502 and thinks the system will land more patients in court because of the DUI standards, won’t compete with the black market prices but will cause law enforcement to kick down more doors – believes people in the medical system are “under siege.”
“I don’t know how else to describe it,” said the Access 4 Washington collective owner and executive director of the Cannabis Action Coalition. “We’re under siege. We know they are coming after us, but why they think we’re a risk to them I don’t know … the Liquor Control Board, the Legislature and apparently the feds.”
His cause for alarm stems partly from statements made by local representatives of the Department of Justice and Gov. Jay Inslee last week when the feds said they wouldn’t sue to stop the state’s legal pot system but would pursue all marijuana activity outside of that system.
In written statements, as The Associated Press reported, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan in Seattle and U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby in Spokane stated:
“The continued operation and proliferation of unregulated, for-profit entities outside of the state’s regulatory and licensing scheme is not tenable and violates both state and federal law … While our resources are limited, we will continue to enforce federal law in this arena.”
Getting out of the business
“I’m not worried right now,” said Kyashna-tocha. “I think the federal government has been fairly careful in Washington state. Dispensaries and medical marijuana sales are illegal. Funny isn’t it? It’s been going on for a while, but it’s illegal. I believe they have been good enough to turn a blind eye to it because of compassion or political agenda etcetera but … (technically) we were never allowed to have medical marijuana sales.”
Also, Kyashna-tocha hopes the Washington Legislature will act to save some part of the medical marijuana system by tightening up qualifications for who gets a medical card and …
“Patients will still be allowed to grow their own, and authentic collectives not engaged in sales will be permitted,” she wrote in an email. “But the days with unregulated medical cannabis businesses are over. IF patients can walk in to a state licensed I502 store and be exempt from some of the taxes they will be pleased. … because the final price will be what’s important.”
Meanwhile, Sarich worries the state will just shut the medical system down and try to stop patients from growing their own – something he knows about since he grows mothering plants for patients (see the gallery above). Mothering plants are not flowering plants but are grown to be clipped to create other plants that produce useable marijuana.
“If they stop patients from growing” their own marijuana, he said, “they’re going to grow anyway, and you’re going to see sick people going to jail and losing their kids … It’s crazy and it’s cruel.”
What next for these two?
“What I’m going to do,” Sarich said, “is give up anything that has to do with a business (in marijuana). I believe that what Jenny Durkan says is what she’s going to do and they are going to go after medical. Jay Inslee has essentially said the same thing. They are going to go after medical and the Legislature has tried to turn us over to the Liquor Control Board … I would have rather they turned us over to Fish and Wildlife.”
So, he’s going to throw in the towel on pot growing and take up the pen, act as an expert witness in DUI cases and focus on advocacy for patients.
“I’m tired of being raided, so I’m going to take a lower-key position.” Sarich has been raided by potential robbers and police over the years.
Kyashna-tocha, on the other hand, is trying to figure out if the new state rules will open the way for growers of small amounts of marijuana to make a living.
Here’s how she’s figuring it:
“In May when the stores open up, I think the indoor grower … may be able to compete OK, with production cost at $2 a gram selling wholesale at $3 a gram (to producers of products) and then comes June when the greenhouse stuff starts to show up, and I can tell you definitely that the production costs on that is down well under $2 a gram.
“And, if my production cost is $2 a gram and their production cost is $1 a gram, they may very well undercut me all summer long. … And then the field stuff shows up like in October …
“I can see that the small indoor grower makes money for two months and never sells his product again competitively.”