WA Senate LBRC - Work Session
(November 30, 2020) - Medical Cannabis

Washington State - Medical Cannabis - Green Cross - Shield

During a panel on medical cannabis, Senate President Pro Tempore Karen Keiser announced previous legislation to make cannabis more affordable for medical patients would be reintroduced.

  • WA Senate LBRC Chair Karen Keiser announced she planned to sponsor legislation to remove the excise tax on medically compliant products for patients registered with the State, as she’d heard allegations that “since we’ve gone to retail licenses medical cannabis has become less available” (audio - 1m, video).
    • In 2019, Keiser was the prime sponsor for SB 5234 which would have modified “the excise tax for medical marijuana patients with recognition cards for products identified as beneficial for medical use.” Medical cannabis access was merged with the fledgling recreational market in 2016 via SB 5052.
    • In preparation for the work session, Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) staff produced their own history describing a timeline and the agency’s role in the merger of the less regulated medical marketplace into the I-502 system.
      • Describing how “dispensary growth exploded” following the passage and partial veto of SB 5073 in 2011, the history asserts “U.S. Attorneys for Western Washington (Jenny Durkan) prosecuted few, perhaps emboldening dispensary operators.”
      • In describing the WSLCB’s role implementing SB 5052, the agency history emphasizes the priority application system was structured by lawmakers: “The Legislature created a three-tiered system for prioritizing applications for the new retail licenses. The first priority was defined by law as including those who met all four of the criteria set by the Legislature…”
      • The history concludes with a note that “law enforcement and county prosecutors varied in their approach to the transition” and highlighted Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza who visited each unlicensed medical dispensary personally.
    • Keiser’s interest in the legislation was driven in part by lobbying from patient advocate John Kingsbury who had been surveying and analyzing patient needs since 2017. 
      • Kingsbury explained to Cannabis Observer that he’d reached out to Keiser because ‘patient issues almost never come up to bat, and when they do, it is usually industry-driven with a “for patients” sticker slapped on to it.’
      • He articulated the driving principles of the bill were “to do as much as possible with one chance” and to “focus on the things that patients themselves say they need” which he’d determined was a “lack of pesticide testing in available products, lack of appropriate products in stores, and cost.” To that end, he articulated the goal of the bill as making “higher-quality, and inherently more expensive, product attainable for patients” and added that the Cannabis Alliance has taken the lead on this bill this session.”
      • Kingsbury explained how HB 5234’s fiscal note estimates that the tax loss realized will be $45,000 per year. I actually hope that this fiscal note will grow over time as patients discover that this excise tax break ends up making appropriate products more available and accessible to them.”
      • Kingsbury last addressed the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) about the agency’s Quality Control (QC) Testing and Product Requirements rulemaking project on November 18th where he advocated for a “floor for testing standards” that achieved “medically appropriate quality assurance” (written comments, audio - 4m).
  • Mary Brown, SMJ Consulting Founder and AIMS Institute Cannabinoid Therapy Educator (audio - 5m, video).
    • Brown last addressed legislators in November 2018 where she called attention to “the lack of compliant medical cannabis products on the market and warned against banning edible product types which patients rely on.” In the fall of 2019, Brown was an appointed member of the WSLCB Cannabis Potency Tax Work Group.
    • Brown explained that she had been involved in “cannabis therapy” and advocacy for “over a decade.” She explained that part of the Institute’s mission included “integrative therapies allowing patients to combine traditional treatments as well as current treatments” and this included the “integration of cannabinoid therapy.” To that end, the Institute tracked medical cannabis research and assisted “practitioners in dosing considerations and creating education” about the plant’s medical utility, Brown stated.
    • She noted patient challenges around medical cannabis affordability, quality, and sustainability caused many authorized patients “to go off-market” instead of using the regulated system. Brown said her group had concerns about licensees’ “ability to achieve licensure or maintain licensure” as well as producers and processors “being able to produce high-quality products” in compliance with existing regulations with additional costs to attain medically compliant status.
    • Brown said her organization worked with patients and practitioners to ensure that “people who are using cannabis for true medicinal purposes,” whether it was “anxiety” or other conditions, procured it through the regulated market. Saying the cannabis excise tax in Washington state was “quite substantial in comparison to other states,” Brown noted that even though exempting patients from the excise tax may impact state revenues she nonetheless asked for incentives for patients to “be able to access their medicine in the legal system.” She explained that patients continued to have concerns about legal risks incurred joining the patient database maintained by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH), stigmatization, and accessibility of medically endorsed retailers.
  • Lukas Barfield, patient representative on the WSLCB Cannabis Advisory Council (CAC), and member of the Tacoma Area Commission on Disabilities (audio - 4m, video).
    • Barfield thanked his Senator, Steve Conway, acknowledging he’d talked to Conway “many times” about the issue. Barfield told committee members that patients tended to have a “debilitating condition” and were often individuals “with disabilities” regardless of whether they registered with DOH’s database.
    • Barfield turned attention to the patient excise tax, saying a bill like the one Keiser mentioned "will help lower costs" and enable patients to access more medical cannabis. He expected increased demand would lead producers and processors “to produce more of those goods which will, in turn, just lower costs overall.”
    • Barfield told a story about sharing a discount with his friend, a veteran and patient, in order to buy more cannabis at once than either of them could afford individually. Still a bit shy from obtaining the product both wanted, Barfield said they settled for cheaper cannabis which turned out to be “some of the worst cannabis I’ve ever seen” and he didn’t “know what to do with it.” He summarized the “situation is a blind person with a disability and a veteran basing their healthcare off a discount code on a lighter and getting bad product.”
    • Though Barfield understood “Washington state needs its tax revenue,” the original bill had a “low fiscal note” so he viewed it as a viable way to help patients “restart the medical system in the state.”

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