Washington State Initiative 502 is a moral quandary for many in the medical marijuana business.
Dale Meltzer, co-owner of Serious Medicine Collective [SMC], in Olympia, WA has had great difficulty deciding how to vote. In the summer, he was originally for I-502, saying he “could never vote against marijuana.” After he read the initiative and did further research, Meltzer realized what passage would mean to his patients and business. He reconsidered his position, deciding he could not vote for the initiative as written.
Mr. Meltzer fears that by becoming a legal state outlet he would be forced to become a different business in a different location. The current mission statement for SMC is “To provide access to the highest quality medicine, resources and education and to provide a safe place to medicate in downtown Olympia.” SMC, which opened on April 20th of this year, is unique in that it features a Volcano vaporizer lounge for MMJ patients to use while downtown. Many SMC clients are terminally ill, others have chronic pain, and “marijuana helps their overall quality of life.”
Meltzer believes that under state control he “would lose the feeling he is helping people,” and selling marijuana would become just another retail job. He states, “the goal….would be to provide recreation rather than actually helping people. I feel like my favorite part about my job would go away.” Additionally, he feels it would be harder to justify his career choice to his family.
To critics, including New Approach Washington, who state the opposition is afraid of the economic impact of I-502 on their businesses, Meltzer responds, “if this was about greed and profits, we would be encouraging people to vote yes because it would increase our market tenfold. It would all be about commercialism and profits.”
His current location, as would most every other downtown Olympia access point, would not be in compliance with the new law.
The state liquor control board shall not issue a license for any premises within one thousand feet of the perimeter of the grounds of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, or library, or any game arcade admission to which is not restricted to persons aged twenty-one years or older.
Premises under this definition include any location, whether used for production, processing or retailing. Additionally, the state is required to notify the city, town or county of any proposed licenses or license renewals within their jurisdiction. The localities are allowed to file objections, which the state board will consider before approving the license or renewal. If the license is rejected for any reason, the applicant faces an appeal hearing.
Despite assurances that the current MMJ system will remain as is, if the initiative passes, Meltzer states he would choose between operating within the medical system as he has been or applying to open a location through the state liquor control board. Meltzer predicts he will have to move his business and will try to “conform to the laws, whatever that means.” He expressed concern that part of the application process involves submitting his fingerprints for registration with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, especially as cannabis will remain illegal at the federal level.
Mr. Meltzer cites the silence of the Department of Justice as a business concern. Even if President Obama is re-elected, U.S. Attorney for the District of Western Washington, Jenny Durkan, is not an elected official and is free to send letters, file lawsuits and initiate raids against whichever businesses she chooses.
No one has been able to accurately predict what the effects of the passage of I-502 will mean for either the state or for individuals who want to remain in a business they have come to love. Questions surround the eleven-month interim period between the initiative taking effect and the liquor authority granting licenses. Court challenges could prolong the period before retail locations actually open for business.
Another concern for Meltzer, shared by others in the cannabis cultivation industry, is the impact state regulation will have on the cost and quality of products available to users. Meltzer notes that growers will tend even more toward higher yield strains and “it will be large production stuff rather than what the current legal limits allow for.” Others believe there will be continued focus on THC content over the preference of many MMJ patients for less intoxicating strains with higher CBDs and CBNs. The strict requirements for testing and packaging could also lead to a homogenization of product, much as what has happened with other agricultural products.