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WIRE: Washington LCB prepares for July 1 merger of medical and recreational marijuana systems

OLYMPIA, WASHINGTON – Preparations made by state agencies, local government, law enforcement and prosecutors will help further a smooth merger of the unregulated medical marijuana market with the tightly regulated recreational system on July 1, 2016.

The deadline was mandated by the 2015 Cannabis Patient Protection Act (CPPA).

Representatives from the state Department of Health (Health), the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB), the state Departments of Revenue, Agriculture, Financial Institutions as well as the state Attorney General’s Office, state Treasurer, and Washington State Patrol have met regularly to communicate and prepare. In addition, representatives of the Washington State Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, the Association of Washington Cities, and the Washington State Association of Prosecutors recently joined the conversations about coordinating plans before and after July 1.

Department of Health Role

“The department’s first priority is ensuring patients have access to accurately labeled and tested products in the new regulated system,” said Department of Health Policy Counsel Kristi Weeks.

To help implement the new regulated system, the legislature directed Health to complete several tasks prior to July 1, including to: distribute a standard form healthcare practitioners must use when authorizing the medical use of marijuana; adopt rules setting higher quality assurance standards for products that may be beneficial to patients; establish a process to certify medical marijuana consultants and approve training programs; and create a voluntary medical marijuana authorization database. These tasks are either complete or on track to be finished by July 1.

After July 1, 2016, qualified medical patients may access marijuana in three ways: grow a limited number of plants at home, join a four-member cooperative to share in the growing and cultivating of their allowed number of marijuana plants, or purchase products from a state-licensed retail store.

Liquor and Cannabis Board Role

The law charged the WSLCB with drafting regulations that integrate the medical marijuana marketplace into the tightly controlled recreational marketplace and licensing additional retail applicants using a priority-based system. Following multiple public hearings around the state, the WSLCB adopted rules and began licensing the highest-priority retail applicants for an available 222 new retail stores. Today there are 378 licensed retail stores of a maximum 556 statewide. Of the licensed retail stores, approximately 82 percent hold a medical endorsement which allows for the sale of products deemed medical-grade if they pass a certification course established by the Department of Health.

To help communicate the transition and provide answers to common questions, the WSLBC today launched a comprehensive section of its website at lcb.wa.gov. The Medical Marijuana Transition website includes FAQs, links to relevant pages of state agency websites, and fact sheets.

Additional Steps

In addition to regulations made by state agencies, additional steps are underway to facilitate the transition.

  • The Association of Washington Cities (AWC) is hosting a webinar with member cities and state representatives to discuss the July 1, transition.
  • The state Department of Revenue this month will send a special notice to collective gardens about their expiring tax exemption and the medical marijuana transition.
  • Law enforcement and county prosecutors vary in their approach to the transition. In Thurston County, Sheriff John Snaza is teaming with a county prosecutor to personally visit each dispensary in the county to inform them of the expectation that they close by July 1, if they do not have a state license.
  • Even though local law enforcement is the primary enforcement entity for unlicensed businesses, on July 1 and after, the WSLCB will lend its assistance to local law enforcement at unlicensed dispensaries and collaborate with law enforcement by confiscating product if necessary. In addition, WSLCB enforcement officers will be visiting and inspecting registered co-ops.

For more information regarding the details of each state agency actions, please visit the designated sections of state agency websites: the Liquor and Cannabis Board, the Department of Health and the Department of Revenue.

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