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Ex-'Pot Czar' Gives Mixed Marks to Proposed Medical Pot Rules

Associated Press

Washington’s former “pot czar” says a proposed overhaul of medical marijuana could drive lots of business to the coming state-licensed pot stores. And though they’ve come in for criticism from some advocates, Mark Kleiman says the proposed changes would probably be good for patients, too.

Kleiman is the UCLA professor hired to advise the Washington state Liquor Control Board. That contract has now ended.

Right now, medical marijuana users in Seattle buy pot at one of an estimated 240 loosely-regulated dispensaries. But state agencies are recommending rules that would basically shut those stores down. Patients would have to shop instead at one of the state-licensed stores set to open next year under Initiative 502.

That makes sense to Kleiman, who says he’s never heard a convincing case for having a separate set of stores for patients. He says eliminating the grey market could be a boon to the legal market.

“If there’s no competing medical system, I’d expect the I-502 system to have more than half the market, even in the first year,” said Kleiman. That’s up from the original estimate, which forecast the legal stores would capture 18-25 percent of the market.

Impacts on Patients

Kleiman says the legal stores will have everything a dispensary would, and the products will have to meet much stricter standards.

“If I had a medical condition that required cannabis, I think I’d rather get material that had been tested for its content of active agents, and also certified free of impurities, rather than something grown in somebody’s basement,” said Kleiman.

But Kleiman says there are a few troubling points in the recommendations, too. They would crack down on rubber-stamp prescriptions—a move Kleiman likes, but also restrict which medical conditions could qualify, which he does not like.

The proposed changes wouldn’t allow patients to have their medicine home-delivered, which Kleiman notes could be a problem for very sick people. And he’s not sure the tax breaks for patients go far enough; the recommendations would exempt patients from state sales tax, but not the steeper excise taxes.

Overall, though, Kleiman thinks integrating the medical marijuana market into the legal market is the right approach. Any sweeping change to the state’s medical marijuana industry would require the Legislature to pass a new law.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.