Officials Attempt to Iron Out Washington Medical Cannabis Laws After Tumultuous Year for MMJ

Just Released! Get realistic market forecasts, state-by-state insights and benchmarks with the new 2024 MJBiz Factbook member program, now with quarterly updates. Make informed decisions.

Lawmakers are trying once again to tweak medical pot laws in Washington State in a bid to come up with a long-lasting solution that will appease marijuana dispensaries, cannabis patients, local governments and the population at large.

Good luck with that.

Crafting a medical marijuana regulatory structure that all sides can agree on will be a difficult, if not impossible, task.

Still, it’s the effort that counts. The past year has been a chaotic one for the Washington medical marijuana community, characterized by raids, legal challenges and a whole lot of confusion. The situation seems to get murkier by the day, and the state has become a patchwork of conflicting laws and regulations.

But a new proposal on the table would help clear up the situation by removing some hurdles for MMJ patients and letting cities and towns regulate – or even ban – MMJ sales.

Under the plan, Washington would allow patients to grow their own medicine, band together with 10 others to form a collective garden, or start nonprofit cooperatives to cultivate up to 99 cannabis plants at a time. Patients could also voluntarily join a registry that would protect them from being arrested for possessing marijuana. You can read the full text of the medical marijuana bill here.

The state’s governor, Chris Gregoire, vetoed a proposal last year that called for introducing a comprehensive regulation system that would cover all of Washington, fearing that state workers could face prosecution from the federal government (similar to the concerns expressed by Arizona’s governor).

This time around, staff members from Gregoire’s office are working on the proposal, so it presumably stands a better chance of surviving.

While the latest proposal is a step in the right direction, it’s still unclear how this will all play out. Critics from both sides are already picking apart the plan, and it could be tough to get any measure passed given the contentious nature of the issue. Pot proponents, for example, are against a registry, citing privacy concerns. On the other hand, some groups opposed to medical marijuana – such as law enforcement agencies – don’t like the idea of allowing collectives or cooperative gardens. They claim these operations make it more likely that marijuana will wind up in the hands of people who don’t really need it for medical reasons.

The situation could get much more complicated later this year. Organizers behind Initiative 502, a proposal to legalize the use of marijuana by any adult over 21, have submitted signatures in a bid to advance the measure. If enough are verified, lawmakers can pass the initiative or send it to voters in November. Alternatively, they could propose a separate measure that would appear on the fall ballot along with the original proposal.