Medical Marijuana Dispensary Shut-Down Averted in Washington

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Washington's legislature almost passed a bill yesterday that would have shut down the state's medical marijuana dispensaries. If the proposal had passed, medical marijuana patients would pay a higher tax on their medicine.

"If patients can't afford the product or if a store does not sell the types of medical marijuana products that patients need, then they may be simply left without a legal source to purchase their medicine which could encourage an illicit market," said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney with the Drug Policy Alliance in Berkeley.

In Colorado, medical dispensaries pay 7.12% in city and sales tax compared to recreational dispensary businesses that pay a 21% tax plus a 15% excise tax also known as a sin tax.

"Medical cannabis patients in Colorado don't pay the excise tax," said Darrin C. Duber-Smith, professor with Metropolitan State University of Denver. "There's a battle here as well because we think the excise tax is too high, which can be detrimental in the long run but a bill shutting down medical marijuana dispensaries couldn't pass in Colorado because there's an amendment that protects the patient."

Medical cannabis advocates in Washington were fighting House Bill 2149 and Senate Bill 5887, which would also bring forth a mandatory patient registry.

"Medical patients and recreational users should both have safe access to regulated cannabis but they have different needs," said Derek Peterson, co-owner of the Blüm dispensary in Oakland. "Medical cannabis patients need to be assured that their medicine is lab tested and medicine is also usually tax free and should be for legitimate patients. These are important factors for very ill patients who already have high medical bills."

Washington lawmakers have reportedly said that federal authorities may stop the state's effort to legalize recreational marijuana sales unless a bill was passed regulating its medical marijuana dispensaries.