Legislature overhauls medical marijuana program
Last update: August 25, 2015
Washington lawmakers spent much of the 2015 legislative session tackling issues related to the state’s marijuana laws. Perhaps the most high profile bill to be enacted this year was an “omnibus” style bill lawmakers championed in an effort to to harmonize the medical marijuana law with the adult use system set up by the passage of Washington’s legalization initiative, I-502, in November 2012.
Under this bill, any sales of marijuana, be they for medical or adult use, must take place at an I-502 licensed facility. I-502 license holders may apply for a special medical marijuana endorsement, meaning they have staff trained to know about the medicinal qualities of different types of marijuana and stock products intended for medical use. The state has also created a voluntary medical marijuana registry to give patients who choose to register protection from arrest for using medical marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation. For more information on this law, please see The Stranger’s overview.
Unfortunately, the focus placed on harmonizing the medical marijuana program with the adult use market left little bandwidth for lawmakers to tackle the important issue of finally decriminalizing possession of marijuana for those under 21. Even after passage of I-502, Washingtonians under 21 still face criminal penalties for the simple possession of marijuana. According to the ACLU, nationwide, 62% of marijuana arrests in 2010 were for people who were 24 and younger, and 34% were for teenagers or youth. Email your legislators and urge them to support legislation that makes marijuana possession by individuals under 21 subject to a civil fine, not jail time.
Retail marijuana sales begin in Washington
Despite initial supply issues and the fact that retail stores did not open until July 8, 2014, Washington generated roughly $70 million dollars in marijuana taxes over the course of the first year of regulated sales. Meanwhile, the state continues to save additional money due to a sharp decrease in misdemeanor cases. In 2013, 120 misdemeanor cases were filed compared to 5,531 cases in 2012.
It has now been over two years since a majority of Washington voters decided that it was time to end the failed experiment of marijuana prohibition. The state has enacted common sense regulations to ensure safety and to prevent access by youth and, as indicated above, is now realizing revenue from sales instead of wasting it on enforcement. While there is certainly still work to be done, it is clear that the doom and gloom scenarios anticipated by opponents to reform have not materialized, giving comfort to policy makers across the country who are weighing similar policy changes in their jurisdictions.
Thank you for supporting the Marijuana Policy Project and all of our allies. If you have questions about marijuana policy reform in Washington, please contact us by email at [email protected] for more information. Don’t forget to subscribe to MPP’s free legislative alert service, if you haven’t done so already.