By Vicki Christopherson
In November 2012, when Washington voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative 502 — a legal, regulatory system for recreational marijuana — the nation sat up and took notice. We hear, oft-reported in a surprised tone, about the significant global brands that come from our state — Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks. We’re fiercely proud of what we do and how we live here, but we’re also accustomed to being forgotten when the spotlight of a Super Bowl or a historic election is gone. Then again, there are some achievements that reverberate.
Washington voters’ clear direction set the wheels in motion for the creation and implementation of a new, regulated system for cannabis. That system, which licenses legitimate, qualified businesses to produce, process or sell cannabis, ensures that Washingtonians age 21 or over can purchase limited amounts of cannabis products and consume them legally. After experiencing deep challenges last year while advocating in Olympia without a single, unified voice, a growing number of licensed businesses formed the Washington CannaBusiness Association (WACA) in 2014. Those businesses recognized the critical importance of modeling, supporting and expanding the safe, professional industry that Washington voters endorsed when they supported I-502. Our state, among the vanguard of national cannabis policy, has to demonstrate it can responsibly manage this burgeoning industry or the entire marketplace could be threatened by old fears and stereotypes about marijuana.
WACA pursues four primary goals on behalf of our members:
– To meet the expectation of Washington voters and to fulfill the promise of safe, quality-controlled marijuana products for all users, and strengthen the financial benefits to the state’s Dedicated Marijuana Fund.
– To acknowledge the momentum toward legalizing marijuana across the U.S. and provide leadership and strong advocacy for a single formalized system on the state level.
– To position Washington State as a leader in the growing movement to legalize marijuana nationwide.
– To engage with our communities, elected leaders, regulators, the public health system and law enforcement to collaborate together and shine a light on the responsible, accountable and law-abiding businesses in the legalized marijuana ecosystem.
One specific challenge to the regulated system is that it exists alongside a legacy of unregulated markets for medical marijuana. Today’s system negates the need for labeling cannabis products as “medical” or “recreational” — all products should be safe, quality-controlled, inspected and regulated. That’s why WACA is supporting Sen. Ann Rivers’ Cannabis Patient Protection Act. Rivers’ legislation aims to clarify a single regulated system in Washington State that assures safety for all cannabis users and that assesses appropriate taxes and fees on all cannabis businesses equally. Specifically, the legislation requires all producers, processors and retailers of cannabis products, whether medicinal or for adult use, to be subject to the same seed-to-sale traceability, testing, labeling and standards, including enforcing transactions with 21-and-over adults only. In addition, the legislation ensures that legitimate patients have access to the medicine they need that is safe and affordable.
The ability to put a green cross on a building and sell medical marijuana to anyone who has obtained a card from a doctor (and all too frequently without checking for such a prescription) was a lucrative opportunity for many. However, the unregulated nature of the old system enabled abuse of it. And today, it is legitimate businesses and patients, who have made every effort to abide by the rules, who are threatened by unregulated outliers trying to protect the Wild West of the old market. For businesses and patients struggling to find your path as the regulated, licensed system takes hold, we encourage you to reach out. Many of our members have faced what you faced and are now working together to ensure that this industry lays a solid foundation to ensure ongoing growth and expansion going forward. And a significant part of WACA’s commitment, and that of the elected and community leaders we have been collaborating with, is to ensure that all consumers are safe and able to access the products they want and need.
What used to be hidden behind closed doors has been exposed to the light. Public attention locally and nationally will continue to focus on our industry and will highlight and amplify anything that takes away from a safe, regulated system, enforceable by law, inspected by experts and paying taxes like every other industry. We urge our licensed colleagues to join us in protecting the opportunity we’ve been granted by Washington voters. As one of the first trade associations of its kind, WACA is excited to join the ranks of long-established peers from other industry sectors — technology, aerospace, agriculture, medical research and renewable energy, to name just a few. As we advance, the spotlight will fade on our corner of the country, leaving us to push forward — maybe with life-changing innovations — transforming perceptions and influencing the cannabis industry with our success.
Vicki Christopherson is the executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association.