The current power grab in Washington state politics—in which the Liquor Control Board, having effectively been fired by voters from selling alcohol, was then put in charge of recreational marijuana under legalization measure I-502—is a fascinating study in the difference between political promises and political reality.
A complete ban on home growing by medical-marijuana patients is one of the proposed new rules unveiled by the Board on October 21. Along with a proposed ban on collective gardens—which would effectively take out medical-marijuana dispensaries—the growing ban would give patients no other option than the recreational pot stores established under I-502.
The promise, of course, was that I-502 “wouldn’t negatively impact” patients by compromising their safe access to cannabis. The reality, as is becoming more and more apparent, is that patients and the collectives that supply them are seen as impediments to recreational-marijuana profits, and the fat tax proceeds expected to follow. Simply put, the LCB is attempting to “fold in” the medical-marijuana market, primarily over concern that untaxed dispensaries would prove too much competition for state-licensed recreational-pot stores.
While state officials began a few months ago on a more honest note—admitting that the specter of competition is the reason they found it necessary to gut the state’s 15-year-old medical-marijuana law—their talking points quickly shifted to being “in compliance” with “federal guidelines,” with the threat of Drug Enforcement Administration raids always a reality.
While such factors could conceivably be a source of legitimate concern for dispensaries, individual patients growing medicine at home are under no such threat. The federal government has shown no interest in raiding individual patients growing their own—in fact, it has specifically expressed a disinclination to do so, from President Obama down through the chain of command.
So why did it suddenly become so crucial to force patients—many of them on fixed incomes, and economically marginal—to stop growing their own medicine, when that’s the only way so many of them can afford any cannabis at all? You guessed it—because the Liquor Control Board wants even patients to have to go to their licensed recreational-marijuana stores (and pay those high taxes, you betcha!), because growing their own would be “bad for profits.”
With absolutely no credible threat of federal raids on individual patient grows, even to suggest that “federal guidelines” are any excuse for taking away the established right of medical-marijuana patients to grow their own is beyond absurd, it is cruel and capricious—especially since many patients cultivate very specialized strains crafted to address their specific symptoms. Many of these strains are, for example, high in CBD, which doesn’t get you high at all, but is effective against pain and inflammation. Do you really expect to find those strains in a recreational-marijuana store?
Lending an air of Kafkaesque unreality to the idea of patients having to access their medicine through recreational-marijuana stores is the fact that these staffers, unlike dispensary employees, will likely know nothing about cannabis’ medicinal uses—and even if they do, under LCB rules they are forbidden to discuss it.
Simply put: If home-growing is taken away from patients, some of the sickest and most vulnerable will no longer have medicine. Do we really want to do that in the name of profits?
Steve Elliott edits Toke Signals, tokesignals.com, an irreverent, independent blog of cannabis news, views, and information.