For medical marijuana users in Washington, things are about to change.
Although the state's medical marijuana program is 17 years old, Washington is just now moving to regulate production and distribution of medical marijuana. Additionally, more regulation is coming with the legalization of recreational cannabis use that was voted into law in 2012. Although these things may seem positive on the surface, medical marijuana cardholders aren't so sure.
Although the state's new laws are supported by politicians on both sides of the aisle, critics are concerned that the changes will make medical marijuana more difficult to access. Many fear dramatically increased prices, limits on possession amounts, and restricted access to specific medical marijuana products needed by high-use patients. Additionally, medical marijuana cardholders are concerned that the supply of medicinal cannabis could decline drastically once the state implements limits on growing.
Until now, most of Washington's marijuana dispensaries have been untaxed and unregulated. With the new changes, however, consumers are concerned that the high taxes (often up to 37%) faced by recreational consumer. What's more, it seems like their concerns are spot-on. Washington's new regulations will be in place by July 1, 2016 and, at that time, medical users can begin to expect high taxes and a retail market-like environment. It is worth noting, however, that taxation on marijuana can be very lucrative for states and their citizens. For example, in Colorado, taxes on recreational and medicinal marijuana in 2014 alone pulled in $63 million. All of that tax revenue will be used to improve social services in the state and the excess may be paid back to citizens in the form of a dividend.
Although medical marijuana users in Washington are concerned about what the changes in regulation and taxation mean for them, there are a few definite upsides. In the past, medical cannabis has been completely unregulated, which means that everything from production method to pesticide use has been completely up to the grower. Although many growers are ethical and careful about their products, some are not. That said, it's easy to see how Washington's new production and distribution regulations will provide better consumer protection. Additionally, stricter regulations have the potential to produce purer, higher quality products that are better for medical consumers.
Change is always uncomfortable and it seems that Washington's new legislation will offer a trade-off: higher taxes and the potential for a decreased supply in exchange for a safer product and better regulation.