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Marijuana legislation remains up in smoke

Free samples are common during MMJ Universe’s weekend farmers market.

Some go to an elderly individual recently removed from a kidney transplant, another to a middle-aged farmer wearing Carhartt gear and even more to a man who broke his neck 30 years ago and swears by a cream one of the vendors recently rubbed on his ailing elbows.

Located just outside Black Diamond city limits, hundreds of prescription-holding patients stroll in and out of a transparent greenhouse to get the latest in customized and potent marijuana. Between 20-30 vendors showcase variations of buds, weed-infused baked goods and concentrates. But that’s not all. There’s also a reggae band, masseuse, free yoga class, art and glass blowing.

This slightly smoky weekend market is radically different from the MMJ Universe collective that’s open during the week, but it’s also what MMJ Universe owner Deidre Finley said best represents the spirit of why Washington voted to legalized medical cannabis more than 15 years ago.

It’s also exactly what Finley said would have been eliminated had a bill not unexpectedly died before the legislative session ended on March 13.

Sure, Finley was relieved that she didn’t lose a main function of her business, but she was also grateful that she doesn’t yet have to answer one main question: What are her patients going to do?

“We do want to evolve into a regulated market,” she said. “But you can’t do it from the outside and not understand us.”

THE LEGISLATIVE IMPACT

Washington has no regulated medical system in place, unlike Colorado, which simply allowed medical dispensaries to sell recreational pot.

The recent bill that would have brought the medical marijuana industry under state control died in the House without a vote. The fight is primarily over taxes.

The state Liquor Control Board issued its first recreational pot license on March 5. The board will likely hold lotteries to pick 334 pot shops statewide from the more than 2,200 retail applications. The first stores are expected to open in June or July.

Conflicting sides can be found throughout the debate, including among the various pro-marijuana factions.

Philip Dawdy, media and policy director at the Washington Cannabis Association, said he supports both causes and sees a rift.

“I don’t know if it is hurting both of us, but it’s not helping,” he said. “I think there’s some tension between, not even the two camps, just between the two systems.”

The debate was evident locally during a Black Diamond City Council public hearing on March 6, when a prospective recreational pot business owner spoke in front of the council.

Two owners of Erbacce Wholesale spoke at length to the council, in hopes of distancing their business from the “wild, wild west,” unregulated medical marijuana industry.

“You have nothing to fear from our organization,” Joe Corsell told the council. “We are hard working, law abiding citizens just like you.”

Despite the pleas, the Black Diamond City Council extended a one year moratorium on both industries at its March 22 council meeting. The moratoriums began in September of 2013.

Black Diamond City Councilwoman Carol Benson told The Reporter the city wants to map out where potential pot-related businesses could be located once the legislature has outlined its procedures. Benson noted medical marijuana shops don’t provide any income for the city.

“It’s a cash business,” she said. “It doesn’t even benefit the city to have them.”

In February, the city revoked the business license for Lady Buds, a “health and wellness center” within city limits that has marijuana on the premises, claiming the shop misrepresented its application and role with marijuana. Lady Buds has appealed the revocation and remains open until a decision is made.

Lady Buds’ attorney Jay Berneburg said the city’s most recent moratorium redefined its definition of a dispensary, and in effect will keep Lady Buds from being able to do business in Black Diamond even if it wins the appeal.

Berneburg said the fight is nowhere near finished.

“These guys are going to pay,” Berneburg said. “This is not over no matter what happens. This is a 12 round fight. This is just round two or three. We have a long way to go.”

Similar to Black Diamond, Covington and Maple Valley are awaiting legislature’s decision on how to move forward, though both are taking different approaches.

Covington officials decided to, in essence, grandfather its lone collective, Covington Holistic Medicine, into the city because the business opened before the moratorium.

Recreational marijuana in Covington is currently under interim zoning, which, like a moratorium, is adopted in six month increments. The interim zoning features the state’s 1,000 foot buffers to areas and includes its own other sensitive locations. The city also restricts recreational businesses to specific zones. Retail stores must be located in the mixed commercial or general commercial zones, which are generally either north of 272 Street and in the Covington Way Corridor, Matheson said. Production and processing businesses must be in the industrial zone, which  is generally near the Covington Way Corridor.

Covington’s planning commission will be working on permanent regulations in 2014 and will eventually make a recommendation to the council.

“We and almost every other city in the state were waiting on some direction from the Legislature,” said Covington City Manager Derek Matheson.

Maple Valley, on the other hand, lifted its moratorium on medical marijuana in December of 2012 and is open to recreational and medical businesses, provided the establishments meet state guidelines. Stephen Clark, Director of Public Works and Community Development in Maple Valley, said the city has not received any notification from the Liquor Control Board about recreational businesses applying for applications in the city.

MEDICAL BENEFITS

Samantha Morgan, of Maple Valley, said she suffers from several medical conditions and has cannabis prescriptions for migraines and a hip issue.

Morgan said she’d been skeptical of marijuana until four years ago, when she found it helped her asthma. She researched and, after a year, finally felt comfortable asking her doctor about marijuana as an option.

She said she has seen dramatic results from using cannabis — dropping 11 different prescription medications in the last year.

“And I’ve lost 60 pounds,” she said.

Morgan said her daughter, Hannah, has occasionally waited in the Lady Buds lobby and stood outside selling girl scout cookies.

Morgan defended Lady Buds and admitted to being a marijuana patient in front of the Black Diamond City Council. She said it is important to stand up for the cause.

“I want to be able to be discrete, but I shouldn’t have to hide it,” she said.

A major concern of medical marijuana proponents had been how combining the medical and recreational regulations could hurt patients. While recreational marijuana will be loaded with high percentages of THC — the primary ingredient in marijuana that gets you high — medical cannabis industry is shifting some of its focus to Cannabidiol, or CBD oil, which has proven effective against seizures and will soon be studied as a treatment for children epilepsy.

“You don’t get high from CBD’s but it has an amazing effect on pain,” Finley said.

If the regulations were combined, it is believed that growers may focus their limited growing capacity on the more profitable THC-filled pot, making it difficult for patients to find marijuana tailored to their specific needs. Finley said what would have been done to patients “was a crime. It was wrong.”

Berneburg said he liked the proposed bill, saying it would tighten authorization and would have phased out collective gardens over a two year period.

“Both sides wanted to make sure that patients would have access to medicine,” he said. “There was no attempt to get rid of medical marijuana.”


 

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