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December 18, 2013 at 11:24 AM

Officials want to keep home grows for medical marijuana patients

The state Liquor Control Board recommended that home growing still be allowed for medical-marijuana patients, reversing an earlier proposal that inflamed activists and patients.

Board members, who are charged with implementing the state’s new recreational pot system, want to allow patients or designated caregivers to grow up to six plants at a time — three flowering and three non-flowering.

But some say that’s not enough. Ryan Day, who wants to grow a non-psychoactive strain for his son with severe epilepsy, said he may need at least double the six plants for a reliable supply.

In October, staff from the Liquor Control Board (LCB) and two other state agencies called for an end to medical home growing. That proposal drew more negative comments than any other by the three agencies.

“Enough people in the medical-marijuana community convinced us. We listened to them,” said Sharon Foster, LCB chair.

Those who called for retaining home grows also included Alison Holcomb, chief author of the state’s legal weed law, and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, the Legislature’s premier supporter of medical marijuana.

The state’s law now allows patients to grow 15 plants. But state agencies called for eliminating home grows because those were based on providing patients with a 60-day supply of marijuana. The state agencies reasoned that with a new recreational system coming next year, patients could likely find a reliable supply and didn’t need to have a 60-day supply on hand.

The board was asked by lawmakers to come up with recommendations as the state tries to reconcile the highly regulated recreational system with the largely unregulated medical system.

Foster said the board largely accepted the other staff recommendations, including creating a mandatory state registry of patients.

Some key recommendations which could prove controversial:

*Establish a mandatory registry for all patients, maintained by the Department of Health, used to determine eligibility for exemption from state and local retail sales taxes by qualified patients. Make it available to law enforcement and the Department of Revenue to verify tax-exempt purchases.

*Reduce the amount a patient can possess at any time from 24 ounces to three ounces, a one-week supply.

*Use same level of taxes as the recreational system — 25 percent tax at each of the producer, processor and retail levels — but exempt patients from state and local retail sales and use taxes.

* Only licensed recreational stores with specific state approval could sell to medical marijuana patients, effectively eliminating dispensaries.

Kari Boiter, a patient and advocate, gave the recommendations a mixed review.

State coordinator for Americans for Safe Access, the largest national medical marijuana group, Boiter praised the LCB for retaining home grows. She said the six-plant limit is a “start, but it’s not where we need to be for patients.”

She prefers that the state stick with the current 60-day supply, saying it was the result of a deliberate public process. Some patients barely get by on 15 plants, she said, and some are using only non-psychoactive forms of marijuana.

Day said he’s heard of a legislative proposal that would allow 15 plants if they are strains low in psychoactive chemicals and high in cannabidiol, or CBD, which is believed to have therapeutic qualities. “We’ll see if that pans out,” he said.

Like Holcomb, Boiter also lauded the board for maintaining an affirmative defense for patients. Such a defense doesn’t stop a patient from being arrested or prosecuted but does allows them to make an medical-necessity argument in court.

Boiter called it a “keystone” of the medical system approved by voters.

As for other recommendations, which would dramatically change aspects of medical system, she said, “let’s integrate the two, not eliminate one to make the other work.”

She noted that some medical advocates have wanted regulations. They supported a bill two years ago, SB 5073, that would have regulated the medical system, but former Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of it under the rationale the federal government might prosecute state employees working with medical marijuana providers.

“They say we’re the untaxed Wild West,” Boiter said. “Then let’s find a way to regulate and license us. It’s not our fault the governor vetoed 5073.”

Boiter criticized several specific proposals.

She said the three 25-percent taxes would make legal pot unaffordable for some patients, especially because they might use several pounds a year. She noted that herbal medicines are exempt from taxes and the tax burden for medical pot should fall largely on providers, perhaps with standard business taxes and licensing fees. “Instead of looking at taxing sick patients, let’s tax the ones making money,” she said.

She called a patient registry “very complex” because of privacy concerns. She said she might prefer a model that provides arrest protection to those who volunteer for it. Overall, she believes further study could come up with better ideas. “I just want to make sure all other consequences have been thought about.”

Lastly, she said recommendations that would tighten medical definitions and put restrictions on doctors authorizing medical marijuana go too far.

Doctors use experience and education to determine patients’ needs, said Boiter, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder that affects skin, joints and blood-vessel walls, but isn’t a qualifying condition under state law. She’s authorized for medical marijuana because of intractable pain, which state officials want to further define.

Boiter noted that state officials already have ways to punish bad actors; they’ve suspended medical licenses of doctors found to be running authorization “mills.”  And many doctors refuse to give medical marijuana authorizations because pot remains illegal under federal law. That creates a need for doctors who specialize in medical authorizations, she said. But the state recommendations would not allow a doctor’s practice to consist primarily of authorizations.

“I’m really uncomfortable with them telling my doctor they know better,” she said.

0 Comments | More in Government, Health | Topics: I-502, Liqour Control Board, medical marijuana

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