By Oliver Lazenby
As of July 1, medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal in Washington. State legislators ended the nearly 20-year experiment last spring with a bill that required medical dispensaries to obtain marijuana retailer licenses – allowing that they could snag one of the limited permits – or close shop.
Green crosses are coming down across the state, but not in Blaine; the city didn’t have any medical marijuana dispensaries, said Michael Jones, the city’s community development director. Throughout Whatcom County, however, about a dozen dispensaries will have to close.
Jacob Lamont doesn’t expect the change to have much of an impact on his recreational marijuana business, Evergreen Cannabis in Blaine.
“Do I think I’ll see a spike in revenue? I think it will trickle in,” he said.
One purpose of the bill is to eliminate what some lawmakers see as unfair competition – medical dispensaries operated without some of the regulations that govern state-licensed stores. Lawmakers hope to bring medical patients into the state-licensed retail marijuana market, which will increase taxes collected from the industry and allow the retail industry to better compete with the still-existing black market.
Lamont obtained a medical endorsement from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) for his business, a new license that allows retailers to sell medical marijuana to patients without having to charge state or local sales tax. Medical patients will still have to pay the 37-percent state excise tax.
To be eligible to buy medical marijuana without paying sales tax, patients must be authorized by a physician and register with a state database that’s managed by the DOH.
Many medical patients don’t want to register as a user of a federally illegal substance, Lamont said. He thinks the rule change could drive some of those patients back to the black market in search of unregulated, tax-free cannabis.
Medical patients can still form collective gardens, but the legislation reduced the number of plants they can grow from 15 to four.
Dispensaries started to close last year, and Evergreen Cannabis has already served some customers who formerly got cannabis from medical stores, Lamont said. Monthly sales at Evergreen Cannabis climbed from $40,000 in January to $62,823 in June, according to data from the LCB.
To meet an expected increase in demand at retail stores, the liquor and cannabis board issued 222 additional retail licenses since last October, but their data shows that more than 1,000 applicants did not receive licenses.
Lamont, a firm believer in the medical benefits of marijuana, opposed the rule change because he thinks it will hurt medical users. He said he’s seen marijuana benefit many patients, including children with epilepsy and terminal illnesses, he said.
“Yeah, having one marketplace could be more beneficial to me as a businessman, but as a humanitarian I don’t agree with it,” Lamont said. “I just think that the cause is more important than my profit.”
For Lamont, this is just the newest change in an industry that’s been dynamic since its
“This is the most stressful business I’ve ever even been around,” Lamont said. “And I’ve crabbed the Bering Sea.”