WASHINGTON: Stephen Damgaard uses medical marijuana for nerve damage in his spine, eating a small brownie made with cannabutter each morning. The weed in the butter comes from one of Seattle’s many medical dispensaries — an untaxed and illegal medical pot shop that up until now has been tolerated by authorities.
But almost everything about marijuana in Washington is about to change, as the state moves to regulate both its 17-year-old medical marijuana program and the legalization of recreational marijuana passed by voters in 2012. And critics say the changes will hurt the users of medical marijuana. Fear of higher prices, possession limits and lack of access to the specific marijuana products that high-use patients need has left medical marijuana advocacy groups fighting back against laws that both Democrat and Republican legislators see as good.
Most medical marijuana, previously untaxed and almost completely unregulated, must now be purchased in the same regulated retail stores that sell weed to recreational users. In addition to paying a 37 percent tax on purchases, medical marijuana patients face lower possession limits and tight restrictions on growing marijuana in group collectives. By July 1, 2016, the new regulations will be fully in place and medical patients will be part of the retail market.