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The Liquor and Cannabis Board approved both shops for medical endorsements, which would allow them to sell higher-grade marijuana products to patients when the recreational and medical markets merge on July 1.
Rob Hendrix, who owns Cannabis Central, said it is the responsibility of recreational shops to step up and offer medical marijuana, especially in Kittitas County where there are so few medical dispensaries.
“I believe there is a legitimate need for it and I believe it is incumbent on us as 502 recreational retail stores to take care of that part of it too,” he said. In his opinion “20 to 35 percent of the people who come through my little pot shop door, I believe have real legitimate issues they are trying to deal with.”
Hendrix said he hears stories all the time from people using marijuana to help them deal with pain, anxiety, cancer treatment, to help their appetite and to keep food down.
That has been The Green Shelf owner Brittany Choyce’s experience with her customers as well.
“We do have a lot of people who do use recreational marijuana to self medicate,” she said. “The stories I get to hear all day just validate everything I do. It makes such a difference for people.”
Marijuana retailers cannot give medical advice to their customers, and Hendrix and Choyce both made clear that’s not something they do.
Choyce said she applied for the medical endorsement the day the LCB made the application available and is excited she will be able to offer medical products.
To qualify for the medical endorsement, shops will have to have a consultant to provide assistance to patients in accordance with Department of Health rules. They also will need to enter qualifying patients and designated providers in the state’s medical marijuana authorization database and issue recognition cards.
As the medical and recreational markets merge, some customers are concerned the price of medical marijuana could increase.
Under the Department of Health’s temporary emergency rules, which were put in place as the department finalizes the rules for next year, the production-end of medical marijuana will be heavily regulated so that the product is as pure as possible.
This includes pesticide and heavy metal screenings at time of harvest.
The rules do not have any set prices for product, so the prices will be set by whatever the market value is.
Choyce said the price for medical marijuana will have to increase when the rules go into effect, but that she hopes it will still be affordable for patients.
“It breaks my heart when people have a legitimate need for something that can benefit their life and they are not able to afford it,” she said. “I’m looking forward to being able to offer those people those stronger things that come through that channel.”
Patients with identification cards will be exempt from Washington state sales tax, but will still be required to pay the 37 percent excise tax.
Hendrix expects medical marijuana prices to increase during 2016, but hopes the excise tax will be removed from medical marijuana once the market is in place.
Hendrix said that because the medical market will be so heavily regulated, only those with real medical issues would be able to get the new cards.
“If the vast majority of those (previous) card holders begin using recreationally there should be enough tax revenue we can excuse those with medical,” he said.
The Department of Health was required to define what medical-grade marijuana is, create an authorization database, create medical marijuana consultant requirements and a standardized authorization form. The department put in emergency rules Oct. 5 and will adopt new rules by July 1.
Under the current temporary rules, the Department of Health splits medical-grade marijuana into three categories: high THC, high CBD and general use.
If those rules go into effect, high THC products would be limited to people with medical cards, though people 21 and older could buy general use and high CBD products.
However, Hendrix said he believes there will be changes to the rules and that the day the markets merge could be pushed back as a result of the upcoming legislative session.
Despite whatever changes there may be to the law, Hendrix said he is fully committed to offering medical marijuana.
“We’re committed,” he said. “I’ve been committed to this idea since the first two, three, four, five days since I started.”
He said retailers know the basic requirements of what they will have to do, but the specifics still aren’t known.