Maybe you didn’t know it when you voted for or against I-502, but it was inevitable that its passage would cause Washington State to examine its unregulated and unaccountable medical marijuana program, especially in light of the 2013 Cole Memo. And you may have been surprised when the Evergreen State decided last year to throw all medical marijuana in with recreational marijuana’s regulatory system and put both of those under the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (“WSLCB”). However, with passage of the Cannabis Patient Protection Act (SB 5052), we all knew the day would come when the old guard of medical marijuana would fade away to usher in a new era of intense oversight and regulation. July 1 marks that occasion.
As of tomorrow, pursuant to SB 5052, all currently operating medical marijuana collective gardens and access points must close their doors. Though SB 5052 provides that collective gardens can exist after July 1, they must operate under a completely different set of regulations that require they forego any commercial activity. They also must now register with the state and maintain a healthy distance from WSLCB-licensed retailers. There are no exceptions allowing current access point operators to stay open after July 1 unless those operators secured a retailer license from the WSLCB pursuant to its priority licensing system.
The WSLCB has made clear that its “goal is to have the unlicensed businesses close voluntarily, but their enforcement staff is prepared to help local police and prosecutors take additional steps if necessary.” We expect the WSLCB will employ a range of enforcement and punishment, spanning civil to criminal sanctions and actions. The WSLCB will also no doubt go into unlicensed marijuana operations to seize and destroy cannabis inventory even without filing any charges.
Cities and counties will also take up legal arms against medical marijuana operators that seek to remain open after July 1. Just like the state, local governments have a lot of time and money invested in Washington State’s marijuana experiment and they too are not going to allow it to be derailed by medical cannabis operations that violate new state laws. We wrote about how the City of Seattle is rigorously prosecuting cannabis delivery services and we are hearing from good sources that it plans to move quickly to shut down and punish illegal operators of all kinds, starting right after July 1. Seattle has already told unlicensed collective gardens and access points that June 30th must be and will be their last day in the Emerald City. King County (which contains Seattle) took steps as early as last July to shut down medical marijuana collective gardens after passage of SB 5052 and its cannabis enforcement actions certainly will not be ending anytime soon.
Washington has had medical marijuana since 1998. Expect a regulatory facelift tomorrow.