By Vicki Christophersen
The regulated cannabis industry in has covered a great deal of ground in the past few months and marked some major milestones. License holders enjoyed the media attention celebrating the first 4/20 supported by a regulated cannabis marketplace in Washington. They earned the support of important community voices both in the cities where they do business and with policymakers in Olympia. And they’ve seen Gov. Jay Inslee sign the Cannabis Patient Protection Act into law, marking the beginning of a single regulated, quality-controlled and safe cannabis marketplace for all.
Each one of these events was a testament to the determination of a growing, dedicated number of professional businesses and each milestone represents the arrival of legal cannabis as an established driver of our economy. At the Washington CannaBusiness Association we were proud to represent license holders fighting to achieve critical reforms, but there is much work ahead, including unfinished business to streamline the tax structure for our industry. Public policy can be exhausting work, but it isn’t without rewards. The new state policies enshrined in the Cannabis Patient Protection Act align with the values voters endorsed when they approved Initiative 502 and help solidify the foundation of the legal cannabis marketplace.
The Cannabis Patient Protection Act codifies a regulated marketplace for all cannabis businesses in Washington State. Here are some highlights:
Going forward, retail license holders can sell products for recreational use or medicinal use, following strict guidelines for labeling and testing. Rampant, unregulated collective grow operations will become a thing of the past. This is a win for fair competition, but it is also a win for consumers and patients who deserve greater access to a safe product.
– Legitimate patients may still participate in collective grow efforts. The state has capped such operations at a maximum of four authorized patients and 60 plants solely for personal use. These new regulated gardens must be registered with the state and may not be within one mile of a licensed retail store.
– A voluntary state registry gives legitimate patients access to local sales tax breaks while also protecting retail license holders from bad actors trying to get cannabis at reduced cost. Legitimate patients may also possess three times the amount of cannabis as a non-medical consumer and, through the same voluntary registry, grow up to six plants at home for their personal use. No individual has to belong to the state registry. However without registering, a patient cannot get the tax break. Taken as a whole, this regulatory structure will dramatically raise the safety and quality of all cannabis products so that patients and consumers alike have the information they need to make a smart, safe choice in every interaction with our industry.
Our work is not done. We need our industry to continue speaking with a clear, professional and united voice in our local communities and with state policymakers. There is controversy among some who have enjoyed the perks of an unregulated marketplace for so long. But no one can disagree that the progress the cannabis industry has made to date would have been unheard of in the not-so-distant past. Elected leaders like Gov. Inslee, Sens. Ann Rivers and Brian Hatfield and Reps. Eileen Cody and Joe Schmick have shown courage and leadership this session in working to support a regulated marketplace. During the special legislative session, Rep. Reuven Carlyle is working to streamline the industry’s tax structure amidst a very heated public discussion concerning the state’s budget. The regulated marketplace cannot succeed without consistent enforcement of new regulations and we will turn to policymakers at all levels of government to make this transition as smooth as possible.
The policy challenges that face the industry are still ahead. But we look forward to any measure that strengthens a safe marketplace for consumers and that better establishes connections in our communities that prove that legal cannabis businesses can be good neighbors and citizens. In the months and years ahead, and in future legislative sessions, we will welcome new members and the opportunity to collaborate with our peers in this industry and others. For now, we can watch other places around the country embark upon the trail that Washingtonians built and begin to ready ourselves for what’s next in the new environment of a single, regulated system for cannabis in the Evergreen State.
Vicki Christophersen is the executive director of the Washington CannaBusiness Association.