NEW YORK (MainStreet) Washington's legislature almost passed a bill yesterday that would have shut down the state's medical marijuana dispensaries. If the proposal had passed, medical marijuana patients would pay a higher tax on their medicine.
"If patients can't afford the product or if a store does not sell the types of medical marijuana products that patients need, then they may be simply left without a legal source to purchase their medicine which could encourage an illicit market," said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance in Berkeley.
In Colorado, medical dispensaries pay 7.12% in city and sales tax compared to recreational dispensary businesses that pay a 21% tax plus a 15% excise tax also known as a sin tax.
"Medical cannabis patients in Colorado don't pay the excise tax," said Darrin C. Duber-Smith, professor with Metropolitan State University of Denver. "There's a battle here as well because we think the excise tax is too high, which can be detrimental in the long run but a bill shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries couldn't pass in Colorado because there's an amendment that protects the patient."
Medical cannabis advocates in Washington were fighting House Bill 2149 and Senate Bill 5887, which would also bring forth a mandatory patient registry.
"Medical patients and recreational users should both have safe access to regulated cannabis but they have different needs," said Derek Peterson, co-owner of the Blüm dispensary in Oakland. "Medical cannabis patients need to be assured that their medicine is lab tested and medicine is also usually tax free and should be for legitimate patients. These are important factors for very ill patients who already have high medical bills."
Washington lawmakers have reportedly said that federal authorities may stop the state's effort to legalize recreational marijuana sales unless a bill was passed regulating its medical marijuana dispensaries.
"The efforts to change medical marijuana in Washington had less to do with the need to save medical marijuana and much more to do with ensuring that the new system for legalization functioned as well as possible and that all marijuana sales, including medical, were folded into the new regulatory system and taxes collected," Todd told MainStreet.
If such a bill did shut down medical dispensaries, one solution is for recreational dispensaries to have a pharmacist on staff or as a consultant to assist medical marijuana patients. However dispensaries may not be able to afford it.
"It may not be profitable for recreational dispensaries and it may be difficult for most to come up with the salary to pay for a pharmacist who would give medical advice to their patients," said Joseph Friedman, a pharmacist and director of marketing and business development for Mark Drugs in Lincolnshire.
"When treating children with illnesses such as epilepsy, recreational dispensaries may not know what potency is needed," said Craig Batogowski, a pharmacist in Deerfield, Illinois. "As a result, the patient may not get an adequate amount that will benefit their illness. Determining potency of cannabis requires doctors and even pharmacists."
--Written Juliette Fairley for MainStreet