Recreational and medical markets both suffer from infighting
By Garrett Rudolph
Unregulated medical marijuana is coming to an end in Washington. While the immediate impact of this major change is going to be felt on a local level by licensed businesses, unlicensed dispensaries and cultivators, recreational consumers and medical patients, the national implications will reverberate through any states where recreational cannabis could be legalized in the near future.
So far, medical marijuana has been the necessary stepping stone for states that have made the jump to full recreational. So some of the most likely states that could legalize recreational marijuana in the 2016 election — California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine, just to name a few of the likely suspects — will have to contend with the same question Washington did, and which Oregon seems to be struggling with as we speak.
What should happen with the medical marijuana industry once voters have ushered in the age of recreational?
With so little information to go on, it’s impossible to say for certain. However, it seems untenable for a state to have two competing programs operating simultaneously. As a sports fan, it makes me think about the United States Football League trying to go head-to-head with the National Football League back in the 1980s. One league is destined for failure. In the case of medical versus recreational, I think the entire cannabis industry loses.
Colorado’s system looks to be the frontrunner — retail stores can be medical, recreational or both. Ultimately, I would like to see a marketplace that’s even less divided than that, and I think it would benefit both consumers and businesses.
I’d like to see stores that stock a wide variety of products ranging from the purely recreational to the purely medicinal, and they should all be available at the same location. And it makes sense to give a tax break to legitimate medical patients, or in some cases, even allow for free cannabis to be given to people with qualifying conditions or financial situations.
Prolonging the inevitable by maintaining there must be a separation between medical and recreational seems like a sure way of fostering divisiveness, resentment and complications, just as the split has done in Washington.
Senate Bill 5052, the piece of Washington legislation that will enjoin the medical and recreational sectors, and will put the first true regulatory system in place for the state’s medical program since its 1998 inception, is far from perfect.
In all likelihood, it will send some consumers back to the black market as they shun the taxed and regulated system, either for spite or for the sake of saving money.
The new bill creates “medical endorsements” for retail stores that take certain steps to get the endorsement.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t understand the concept or need for medical endorsements. What purpose does it serve to add another layer of licensing to the process — other than giving the government total control over cannabis? The concept of mandatory training for employees at shops with medical endorsements is laughable, and raises more questions than it answers.
Who is going to handle this training?
Is this an opportunity for a private company like Oaksterdam or Cannabis Training Institute to score a government contract to teach students about the difference between indicas and sativas? (Students who probably already know the difference between indicas and sativas, no doubt.)
If not a private company, then surely the Liquor and Cannabis Board will have to hire a specialist.
If nothing else, I’m excited about the prospect of hearing a government employee explain the medical uses of Green Crack or Jack Kevorkian (yes, crazy strain names were a topic of conversation at our office for a good chunk or the month).