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Recreational and Medical Marijuana Systems Merge on July 1!

June 3, 2016  by  Jim Doherty
Category:  Marijuana

Recreational and Medical Marijuana Systems Merge on July 1!

July 1 will mark a major shift in the state’s development of a regulated marijuana market. On that date, there will no longer be both a strictly regulated recreational marijuana system and an almost totally unregulated medical marijuana system. Instead, the two systems will merge into one fairly coherent and consistent system under the jurisdiction of the state Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). So, effective July 1, any and all marijuana sales throughout the state that do not take place through state-licensed retail stores will be clearly illegal.

The legislation that brought about this change was enacted last year, but many of the provisions were given an effective date of July 1, 2016 to provide time for the LCB to adopt new regulations to govern the new system, which it has now done. For more information, see WSR 16-11-110.

So what exactly will change on July 1?

  1. All marijuana sales, both recreational and medical, must be through state-licensed retail stores.
  2. Anyone growing marijuana will have to be either licensed by the state or be a registered medical marijuana patient or designated provider, and the requirements for getting a state “recognition card” for medical marijuana will be significantly enhanced. For more information, see RCW 69.51A.210 and the new definitions in RCW 69.51A.010.
  3. Under RCW 69.51A.250, up to four medical marijuana patients or designated providers, in jurisdictions that allow medical marijuana cooperatives, will be able to grow marijuana at a licensed location, but none of the marijuana from a cooperative can be sold to others. Also, the number of allowed plants will be scaled back.
  4. Law enforcement and prosecutors should be better able to enforce existing criminal laws given that it will clearly be illegal to grow or sell marijuana outside the state-licensed system.
  5. As the unregulated market diminishes, more marijuana will be grown by licensed growers and sold through licensed stores, resulting in increased tax collection.
  6. On the consumer protection side, though there have been some bumps along the way, the LCB will further refine the regulations on allowed fertilizers and pesticides and tweak the standards for chemical testing of all products sold in licensed stores. (That actually has already started.)

What should cities and counties do in response to these changes? I recommend the following:

  1. Jurisdictions that have previously issued business licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries should notify the businesses that their licenses will be revoked effective July 1, since those businesses, if not licensed by the LCB by that date, will be illegal.
  2. Cities and counties that have previously adopted medical marijuana code provisions should review those provisions. On July 1, references to “collective gardens” will be outdated, and jurisdictions might consider allowing or prohibiting the new medical marijuana cooperatives. Also, jurisdictions will need to check to see if their medical marijuana code definitions and other provisions are consistent with the revised medical marijuana statutes.

AWC members who want more detailed information can register for an AWC webinar on these issues to be held June 15 at 3:00 PM.

As always, change brings new questions:

  • Do those who have been participating in the unregulated marijuana market understand the risks of criminal prosecution if they continue to engage in that activity?
  • Will a couple of prosecutions in jurisdictions be adequate to get the message across that “things have changed”?

The word is that, to resolve these issues, the state wants the assistance of cities and counties to enforce the criminal laws so that the state-licensed stores don’t have competition from unregulated growers/sellers and so that maximum tax revenue is collected. In the long run, I think that all levels of government will benefit from a well-regulated marijuana market and the push to eradicate the unregulated market. It will take some time and effort, though exactly how much remains unclear.

Have a question or comment about this information? Let me know below or contact me directly at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Jim Doherty

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



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