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Seattle Times coverage of pot policy, culture and lifestyle.

July 8, 2014 at 4:36 PM

Medical-marijuana professionals fear retail regulation

General manager Phoebe Bizzelle and receptionist and bud tender Kate Kinkle of Green Anne pose with a clone in the Queen Anne medical marijuana dispensary.

Green Anne receptionist and bud tender, Kate Kinkle, (left) and general manager Phoebe Bizzell, (right) pose two of the dispensary’s marijuana clones. (Corrected version: an earlier version of this caption transposed the names of the women pictured.)

As lines formed outside Washington’s first legal retail marijuana shops today, a quiet waiting room in a downtown Seattle office building filled with another group of people looking to buy pot.

The Green Wellness clinic is an alternative-medicine center whose business cards say “Medical Cannabis Doctors.”

Keith Gordon, 61, came to the clinic to get re-authorized for medical marijuana. Despite legalization, he said, he doesn’t plan on buying from the retail shops.

“Here [in the medical-marijuana system] there are more choices, more flexibility and the price is easier to control,” Gordon said. “It’s easier to find a supply and go buy it, too, and I don’t want it to be that much harder.”

Once authorized, Gordon, who says he uses marijuana to relieve his arthritis and pain, will be able to buy a variety of marijuana products, from edibles to joints, at an estimated 300 dispensaries throughout Seattle.

Compared with the retail shops, which had one store open in Seattle on the first day, the medical  dispensaries are more prevalent, carry a larger variety of products and face far fewer regulations and taxes from the state.

The pot is also cheaper. At Green Anne, a medical-marijuana dispensary in Queen Anne, one gram of pot costs $10 to $15, according to general manager Phoebe Bizzell. Compare that to the about $20 charged today at Seattle’s first legal retail store, Cannabis City.

State regulations on the medical growers are also much looser. While every recreational pot plant must be bar-coded and entered into a tracking database, medical-marijuana users are permitted to grow up to 15  plants in their homes.

But recreational-pot users have greater assurances about the safety and chemical content of the pot they buy at retail stores than the best-educated patients have in the largely unregulated medical system, where testing and accurate labeling are not mandated. Testing shows that some marijuana strains are not what they purport to be in name, chemical content and genetics. This is particularly concerning for patients seeking pot low in intoxicants and high in pain-relieving or other therapeutic qualities.

Robert Dotson,  a medical consultant at Green Wellness, said the medical marijuana community is wary that new regulations could be in store, with the medical system eventually brought to the new state-licensed stores.

“I would hate to see recreational pot mean that medical marijuana gets derailed to match,” Dotson said. “People need this, it is their medicine. For that to be snatched away by things like limiting access, increased taxes and preventing people from growing their own medicine is just criminal.”

But Bizzell said she is not worried for the immediate business of the dispensary.

“Sure some people might want to wait in line to buy expensive pot,” Bizzell said, standing at the counter of Green Anne. “ I really don’t think we’re going to lose any patients.”

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