Medical marijuana should be separated from recreational pot

Bradley Smith / The Watchdog

Medical marijuana has been protected by law in Washington state since 1998. In 2007 and 2010 the law was amended in order to improve the status and accessibility to those in need as well as relaxing criminal offenses to those able to possess a given amount of cannabis. As this community grew, countless people were able to benefit from what it had to offer. Although, within the past four years it has been nothing but downhills and obstacles.

The first and biggest mistake that acted as a catalyst for the issues faced by the medical dispensaries was when I-502 grouped medical marijuana in the same category as recreationally sold pot. The moment this happened, the fate of medical shops was decided and in time have been prevented from succeeding in their once thriving community.

To the dismay of the medical cannabis users, as of July 1 this year only medically endorsed recreational shops are permitted to sell medical products. This furthered the complications and obstacles that shook already existing medical dispensaries and left them with two options, either shutting down entirely or merging with the recreational market – if they’re even given approval for a license, that is.

While on one hand there are a significant amount of these shops that have been approved to sell medical products, it doesn’t equate to having access to a legitimate medical dispensary. Employees at these stores are not required to have any previous experience, knowledge or even training about the medical products they are selling.

To make things worse for these patients it is now increasingly more difficult to avoid the high excise tax required at recreational stores and will now have to pay more for their medicine. It just doesn’t work merging unregulated and untaxed medicine.

These issues haven’t even scratched the surface on how broken the system is due to merging medicine with recreation. A big flaw is the way in which people are prioritized when applying for an I-502 license. Despite promises of having a clear cut process to distinguish the qualified from the ineligible, the system failed to allocate licenses to the people who have existing businesses.

This happened due to the fact that applicants were able to prove their experience by using past pay stubs and multiple people could group together in one application. This allowed anyone to gain priority whether or not they worked a single day or a few years. The loophole goes even deeper when people began selling pay stubs for large amounts of cash, making it possible for those with zero background to have a higher priority level than a store owner who had been in the industry for years.

In order to preserve the unique difference between these two very contrasting uses, Washington should take a closer look at Colorado. There they have similar enough laws that merge the two while also leaving the option to stay fully separated. This gives medical patients a wider range of choices. If they wanted to shop at a dispensary that sold strictly medical products, they have full access to that option while at the same time. If they could find exactly what they needed at a recreational shop they have the liberty to pursue that as well. This approach seems like common sense because it satisfies everyone’s needs and desires without creating unnecessary obstacles.

Washington’s loss of variety in medical marijuana products, lack of proper medical knowledge by employees and higher financial burden is a hard blow to the community of people who are just trying to medicate themselves the way they feel is most beneficial to them. It is time for Washington to see the negative effects of viewing medical and recreational cannabis as indistinguishable.

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