For the second entry in our I-502 Marijuana Law series we wanted to touch on the differences between medical marijuana sales and recreational sales in Washington, and the negative effect I-502 may have on medical marijuana businesses. If you missed it, check out our first entry on zoning for recreational sales here.
Although many see marijuana sales as a great new frontier for business, Washington's new marijuana law may effectively eliminate the medical marijuana industry in Washington.
The fact is, medical marijuana sales in Washington are and always have been illegal. As such, it has always been an extremely risky industry. Despite previous attempts by Washington lawmakers to introduce medical marijuana regulations, the federal government has pushed back with threats to prosecute medical marijuana employees. Since that is not the result Washington was aiming for, lawmakers abandoned regulation of the industry and instead chose to ignore it almost entirely. This means that although medical marijuana sales were allowed to thrive, they were always subject to future regulations that could either significantly alter those businesses, or eliminate them entirely.
I-502 may be that regulation. It operates to make recreational marijuana sales legal, but heavily regulates where it can be sold, to whom, and how sales will be taxed. This has left many wondering how medical marijuana dispensaries can coexist.
Imagine, for example, a person applies for a license to sell marijuana for recreational use and is denied that license due to a zoning issue. Or, imagine the license is issued but later revoked for selling illegally to an underage buyer. It simply isn't fair or practical to then allow a medical marijuana dispensary to operate illegally in that same space, selling to otherwise illegal buyers.
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution to these problems. Although lawmakers are currently trying to introduce legislation that would make medical marijuana sales legal but separate from recreational sales regulations, the simple fact is it may not pass. What would result then is an illegal industry that the Washington government will no longer be able to ignore.
Clearly, the law on marijuana sales in Washington is not settled and will continue to change until all of this is resolved. You should contact a marijuana business law attorney to help you plan for these and other changes as they occur.