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Our Legislature Talks Marijuana, But That's All (Sigh)

March 26, 2014 by Jim Doherty
Category: Marijuana

Our Legislature Talks Marijuana, But That

This was supposed to be the year that the Legislature finally sorted out the absurdity of having a highly-regulated recreational marijuana market alongside an unregulated medical marijuana market. It didn’t happen. No bills dealing with the many marijuana issues before the Legislature passed, in spite of lots of effort by local government officials and lobbyists, and encouragement from the governor.

Numerous bills were introduced during the 2014 session dealing with issues such as the state/local split on marijuana excise taxes, how to incorporate medical marijuana into the regulated market, and whether local governments should be able to ban the sale of marijuana within their jurisdictions. During a short session like this one, there were simply too many issues and not enough time (or will) for all of those involved to reach a consensus on these issues.

I’ve got to believe that the Legislature will resolve some of the major marijuana issues during the next session! Until then, here’s where we stand:

  • The Liquor Control Board will continue (as best it can) to facilitate the development of a state-wide regulated market for recreational marijuana to replace the unregulated market;

  • Some local governments will decide to opt out of the regulated market, thus perpetuating the unlicensed and untaxed sale of marijuana in their jurisdictions;

  • The confusion over medical marijuana will continue, with some local governments tolerating collective gardens and dispensaries and some prohibiting them; and

  • Local governments will continue to wrestle with these issues while the state will start receiving excise tax revenue from the recreational market sometime in the summer.
At this point, the state has spent LOTS of time and money setting up the licensing and regulatory process for the recreational marijuana market, and it will be a while before the excise tax revenue reimburses the state for that considerable outlay. Within a short time, however, the revenue should start to become a significant stream of cash – and our state politicians will spend a good portion of their time deciding how to slice the tax pie and allocate the revenue.

Regulation of medical marijuana in our state is still chaotic. Unlike Colorado, Washington never established a comprehensive regulatory system, partly due to the always-threatening stance of the federal government. Our medical marijuana statutes do not even mention the words “dispensary,” “store,” or “sale,” yet some people contend that there is a “right” to set up retail outlets and sell to countless consumers with medical marijuana cards. How did that evolve from the concept of “collective gardens”?

Many jurisdictions are in a holding pattern. They have adopted moratoriums on medical marijuana, hoping that the medical marijuana conundrum would be untangled by the legislature. Not yet. Quite honestly, given the current state of affairs, I don’t know how to advise local governments on medical marijuana issues.

As we’ve pointed out repeatedly in these marijuana blog posts, this is going to be a long, bumpy road. Your legal advisors will continue to chew these issues over, searching for some underlying wisdom, or at least some possible legal strategies that may be acceptable to your community during this transition.

Photo Courtesy of Chuck Coker.

About Jim Doherty

Jim has over 24 years of experience researching and responding to varied legal questions at MRSC. He is the lead attorney consultant and has special expertise in transmission pipeline planning issues, as well as the issues surrounding medical and recreational marijuana.



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