Washington medical-marijuana patients may be offered financial help in the near future from an unlikely source: the Washington CannaBusiness Association. The trade organization, along with Republican Senator Ann Rivers, was instrumental in crafting SB 5052, otherwise known as the Cannabis Patient Protection Act, which effectively shut down hundreds of medical dispensaries across the state. As a result, many medical patients were driven back to the black market, searching for CBD-rich cannabis and lower prices.
For the past two years, WACA has been pivotal in influencing Washington cannabis law in the legislative, regulatory, legal, and public-policy arenas. Its members stress a need for more regulation and established pesticide testing, encourage industry collaboration, and suggest there should be a unifying “code of conduct” for cannabis-industry members. It currently counts around 70 members—only a small portion of the state’s producers, processors, and retailers. Dues go “directly to candidates and organizations that support our policy goals,” according to one e-mail from the group.
Now WACA is creating the Medical Access Fund, a donation-based charity intended to provide free and low-cost medicinal cannabis to qualifying patients. The fund, says WACA executive director Vicki Christophersen, is meant to provide relief to patients feeling the crunch, post-SB 5052: “Prescription-drug companies can provide free drugs and lower prices to patients in need—because they are allowed to by federal law,” she says. “There are prescription-drug plans that patients can apply to for a reduced price, and you don’t have that with marijuana.” Believing the natural course for cannabis in this country is eventual national legalization, Christophersen says that WACA intends to create a federally recognized charity as a stop-gap until federal laws change.
They expect to be in a position to start registering patients and donors sometime this spring—though patient registration remains an issue in a community reluctant to self-identify prior to full federal legalization. Christophersen envisions most of the money will come from the group’s membership, but anyone can donate. “It’s our members who really want to do this,” she says. “We heard from the industry a very strong desire to help patients.
“It comes down to a combination of legalization, patients having access to the traditional government programs that help them get their medicine, and the industry stepping up. We’re just doing it earlier because we know that there are patients that need product and are struggling with that.”
It is a need that WACA may have helped to create. Nonetheless, the organization believes that both the fund and SB 5052 are steps toward a better marketplace.
“WACA endorsed the Cannabis Patient Protection Act because the association and its members support a regulated, quality-controlled and safe marketplace to for patients and general consumers alike,” says WACA spokesperson Aaron Pickus. “Before the legislation was signed and enacted into law, there were no regulations or quality-controls whatsoever to protect patients.”