MMJ And 502: Sisters Of A Different Mother
The exact language is for the Liquor Control Board, LCB, to develop…” recommendations for the legislature regarding the interaction of medical marijuana (MMJ) regulations and the provisions of Initiative Measure No. 502” The LCB must, not may, but “must” work with Department of Health and the Department of Revenue to review a list of cannabis issues, and the list is telling.
The timeline has been established, and the issues refined. They will be reviewed by a “work group”, and work has started. If you want to get in on the meetings you should contact the LCB, we assume they are open to the public. Right?
The Work Group:
Work Group Members: No Civilians?
Department of Health (DOH): Kelly Cooper, Acting Director for Policy, Legislative, & Constituent Relations ; Kristi Weeks, Director, Office of Legal Services Liquor Control Board (LCB): Rick Garza, Director; Ingrid Mungia, Staff Attorney Department of Revenue (DOR): Drew Shirk, Assistant Director, Legislation & Policy Division; Kathy Ryan, Tax Policy Specialist, Legislation & Policy Division Governor’s Office: John Lane, Sr. Policy Advisor for Public Safety & Government Operations Legislative Committee Staff: Kathy Buchli, Coordinator/Sr. Counsel Senate Health Care Committee; Dean Carlson, Senate Ways & Means Committee, Revenue Coordinator; Christopher Blake, Counsel, Office of Program Research; Dominique Meyers, Fiscal Analyst, House Finance Committee
Issue area assignments:
1. Recommended age limit: DOH
2. Authorizing requirements for medical marijuana: DOH
3. Regulations regarding health care professionals: DOH
4. Collective gardens: DOH
5. Possession amounts: DOH
6. Location requirements: LCB
7. Requirements for medical marijuana producing, processing, and retail licensing: LCB
8. Tax structure of marijuana as an agricultural product: DOR
9. Taxation of medical marijuana in relation to recreational marijuana: DOR
Subjects To Be Covered By The Study:
(i) Age limits;
(ii) Authorizing requirements for medical marijuana;
(iii) Regulations regarding health care professionals;
(iv) Collective gardens;
(v) Possession amounts;
(vi) Location requirements;
(vii) Requirements for medical marijuana producing, processing and retail licensing; and
(viii) Taxation of medical marijuana in relation to recreational marijuana.
Even an outsider can see that two-thirds of the study is pointed at MMJ. The work group will look into MMJ authorizations, (which state officials have said are easier to obtain than the flu during the second week of a legislative session), regulations of health care professionals issuing the “authorizations”, collective gardens (only allowed under MMJ law, not 502), the entire licensing framework for production, processing and retail of MMJ (this is painfully detailed for recreational use (502) in both statute and proposed rules), and finally, the one that brought them to the dance…revenue. Everyone is still muttering the big question under their breath, “with no embedded taxes in MMJ product, what keeps the 502 market, with up to 75% gross receipts taxes, and sales tax, and b and O taxes from leaking over to MMJ?”
Well, looks like we will find out when the report reaches the legislature sometime before January 1. 2014. And even LCB staff admit that if they expect the legislature to take the report seriously, it better be there well before January. 2014 is an election year, and this train will be loaded with healthcare professional scope of care language and the word “tax”.
The seed for this study may have been the uneven revenue policy of two types of cannabis, but a read of the budget language and the scope of work of the study reveal a typical policy pathway for the merger of two cannabis regulatory platforms in Washington State. Colorado has already laid out a process for a single type of regulatory platform. The dirty little secret is, without a cost effective, uniform market environment for legal cannabis, the black market will still be the default access point for many of Washington’s users.
They may be diverse, and they may be loud, and some accuse them of being “unsophisticated”, but Washington’s MMJ community is more of a monolith than they appear. At the core of the decade-old MMJ program in Washington is a true, passionate belief that cannabis is a healing and comforting herb…or drug. This mantra is common, just make a few calls. The LCB’s two regional listening events revealed a room full of Veterans, patients, growers, packagers, dispensers and other users who all shared real life healthcare experiences. They almost universally mention the advantage of non-chemical, non-pharmaceutical treatment options. As one woman told the first regional meeting in Olympia last winter, “I know what is in my body (when she uses MMJ), and I know it works. I can’t say the same for my pharmaceutical prescription.” She also compared the prices.
There is money in the MMJ community, there is, albeit diverse, organization, and there is fight in the dog. The recreational community is just coming together. They have not fought the legislature’s emotional, philosophical and political demons of cannabis. Their money is new, non-cannabis (yet). Their cause is personal use, business and freedom. If they can ever join forces with the MMJ clan (a good term), they will be able to make incredible progress. If they throw rocks at each other, cannabis in Washington will be set back. The players need to know that users are watching, legislators are watching and most important, the feds are watching. As Governor Inslee volunteered during a recent press conference clarifying the fed’s new position on recreational cannabis for Washington and Colorado, MMJ needs “a lot” of work.
Two previous versions of the budget proviso included, or required inclusion of cannabis stakeholders. The final language did not. A wise LCB approach to the study will be to bring the players in early. They might as well start the debate early because it is going to plug up the process in January if they don’t.
Everyone knows, when it comes to politics and policy you are either at the table, or you will end up on the menu. This study needs a huge table, and a menu that serves one dish; inclusive dual regulatory pathways, or a harmless merger. The pathways must address the real problems with MMJ, and dispel the make-believe rants.
Time Line For The Work Group:
Date (2013) Milestone
July 15 Work group meeting: Draft timeline
August 26 Work group meeting: Scope of work and work assignments
September 9 Work group meeting: Check-in and evaluate progress of draft recommendations and address specific questions
September 27 Work group meeting: Check-in and evaluate progress of draft recommendations and address specific questions
October 7 Work group meeting: Finalize draft recommendations
October 14 Briefing on draft recommendations to Governor’s office, OFM, appropriate House and Senate committee chairs, ranking members and other legislative members
October 21 Provide draft recommendations to stakeholders for comment
November 12 Work group meeting: Review stakeholder comments and consider revisions to draft recommendations
November 21-22 Present draft recommendations to appropriate House and Senate committees at Legislative Assembly Days
December Work group meeting: Finalize recommendations to the legislature
Briefing on final recommendations to Governor’s office, OFM, appropriate House and Senate committee chairs, ranking members and other legislative members
January 1, 2014 Deliver final recommendations to the legislature