A medical cannabis club in 2005.
c Thomas Hawk

USA: Cannabis legalization sees opposition from unlikely source

The American states of Washington and Colorado made international news last November, when voters from both states passed initiatives to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational use. Voters had previously voted for laws protecting cannabis use for qualified medical patients, but the support for all-out legalization seems to be fading amongst figures in the medical community.

In a surprising turn of events, many medical marijuana patients have spoken out publicly against the legalization of cannabis for recreational use. Many of the same people who spent decades crusading for legalization have now turned against it. Citing concern with the new law’s taxes and regulations, groups have popped up to attempt to protect Washington’s medical marijuana law, and keep it completely separate from the state’s new law. Their opponents say that medical patients have a curb on a black market, and a few are profiting from loopholes in the medical cannabis laws.

Many advocates for cannabis legalization have fought for years to see it become a reality. When Washington legalized marijuana for medical use, it was seen by most in pro-cannabis camps as a major victory. Since then, numerous medical marijuana storefronts have sprung up all over the state, calling themselves “collectives” or “co-ops”. While the dispensaries are explicitly prohibited in the language of the state’s medical marijuana law, most of these storefronts operate in the same fashion. It has become a lucrative market for co-op owners, as well as farmers and managers of collective gardens, seeking to exchange their crops for donations instead of selling it outright.

In Washington state, legalization went into effect on December 6th, after Initiative 502 passed by a popular vote a month before. Anyone over the age of 21 is now allowed to carry up to one ounce of dried cannabis in the state. Over the course of a year, the Washington State Liquor Control Board was charged with the task of drafting the rules for a retail system, in which taxes up to 25 percent were to be levied. Also, growers, retailers, and distributors would need be licensed by the state to lawfully carry out their business activities.

And it’s exactly these taxes and licenses that have the medical marijuana crowd up in arms over the passing of Initiative 502 (I-520).

Pat Hynes, who is a part-owner of Professional Patient Co-op located in Seattle’s Fremont neighbourhood, said his concerns mostly lie with the needs of medical patients. “I have a lot of people coming into our shop who are sick. They are in pain. And they need medicine. Many can’t afford to pay for their medication as it is. How are they supposed to be able to afford it when an extra 25-50% tax is put on top of it?” he said. Hynes regularly gives medicine to lower-income patients for free, citing his concern for the well-being of his patients.

Another group majorly concerned with the Liquor Board’s incoming regulations are medical marijuana growers. Many growers are concerned that big business will infiltrate their market and run them out of the game altogether. Among the corporations rumoured to be lobbying in Olympia are familiar names such as brewers AB InBev and tobacco giants Phillip Morris.

Since the passing of I-502, many growers have come public with their crops after growing as outlaws for years. Many have been perfecting their techniques for decades, leading to product with as high of quality as anywhere in the world. With increased regulation by the state, many fear the level of quality and potency achieved by these small-time growers will be eradicated as giant marijuana farms used to feed state-owned storefronts could become the new reality. If that system were to become the new norm, priorities could shift from quality to quantity.

One grower, Gary Cline, says he has no chance of keeping up if corporate interests are put before those of individuals and small growers. “I’m not against legalization, but I definitely think the laws could be written better,” he said. “If the state decides to give out licenses, and they cost $500,000… Guess who would be getting them? Not me. Not anyone I know. It’s going to be giant companies who only have an interest in turning profit and getting the highest yields out of every crop possible. That’s where you lose the quality.” Currently the application fee is only $250 with a $1000 renewal fee.

Pat Hynes agrees with Cline about the laws, saying that while Initiative 502 is a step in the right direction, he doesn’t think it will work out for the best. “The way this law is set up, it doesn’t get rid of the black market. The prices will shoot through the roof, and people will continue to sell on the streets to get a cheaper product. I know that this is a new thing. Nobody has had a law like this before, and there is no roadmap. Nobody knows what they’re doing. That’s both exciting, and scary. Especially for someone in my position,” he added.

Some patients have a more optimistic approach to the new laws. One medical patient, Chris St. Evers, said “I hear everybody complaining about these new laws, about how the prices are going up and everything. But I’ve got to say, who cares? Ten years ago we would all be going to jail. And now we’re not. It’s progress.”

It is progress, and not everyone is going to agree on the correct route to get to a solution.

There is still interest from lawyers, law enforcement, and special interest groups in seeing how the new laws are implemented and what is still considered a crime. That is one more thing that has people worried. One major fear for medical patients is whether or not they can be charged with a driving under the influence after failing a blood test, as THC can stay in a person’s bloodstream for up to a month.

It is unclear just how the citizens of Washington will sort out and efficiently put into place its new marijuana legalization legislation. There are also uncertainties as to how the federal government will react, as several former DEA officials have urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to file suit against Washington and Colorado for passing legislation that conflicts with federal law. One thing that is for sure is that there is definitely no road map. Washington is treading a new path, and there will be bumps in the road. But if they are able to make it work, other states can use Washington as an example.

“I don’t know how it’s going to work, but it will. It has to,” said Gary Cline. “We’ve seen that prohibition is a joke. We’re lucky here in Washington to be able to take the first attempts at taking it down.”

Sam Becker


Sam Becker is a writer and journalist based in Seattle, Washington. He earned his degree in Broadcast News from Washington State University in 2009, and has worked as in radio, video production, social media, and now is focusing his efforts on journalism. His interests include politics, technology, travel, history, and economics.

17 comments on “USA: Cannabis legalization sees opposition from unlikely source

  1. Pingback: USA: Cannabis legalization sees opposition from unlikely source – The Foreign Report | Consult LLC

  2. Good article, but I do not believe that “THC can stay in a person’s bloodstream for up to a month”, it is the non-psychoactive metabolite of THC (THC-COOH) which is detectable for up to 60 days rather than the psychoactive chemical itself (an important distinction when talking about impaired driving).

  3. Steve Sarich on said:

    All that writing and so little fact-checking. There are numerous good reasons for patients to be very concerned about the LCB implementation of I-502. How did you manage to write a lengthy story on the issue and miss nearly all of them.

    Steve Sarich
    Cannabis Action Coalition

  4. I have been predicting this scenario for years. The advocates for legalizing weed seem to be more interested in aligning themselves with the half a million dollar license guys. They are ignoring the culture of cannabis and will screw the common grower out of a living in order to enrich a few that are already rich, powerful and connected. Only by producing cannabis by individual quota will we insure the big corporation are cut out of the production phase. Only by individual quota will quality surpass quantity.

  5. Joey Tranchina on said:

    Protecting the integrity of medical cannabis is very important to patients and to the medical establishment that has gone out on a limb to endorse an uncontrolled herb because of its apparent efficacy.

    It is an important distinction but one that in no way takes precedence over the need to free America’s massively broken criminal justice system from the unnecessary weight of criminalizing marijuana.

  6. Pingback: USA: Cannabis legalization sees opposition from unlikely source - TruthOnPot.com

  7. Corey Donaheu on said:

    “There are also uncertainties as to how the federal government will react, as several former DEA officials have urged U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to file suit against Washington and Colorado for passing legislation that conflicts with federal law.”

    There are no uncertainties in Colorado. Eric Holder and Gov. Nixonlooper have had many conversations regarding the implementation of A64.


    Meaning the federal government is directly influencing policy made by the people of Colorado.

    • Steve Sarich on said:

      No sooner had the law been passed before Rep. Chris Hurst, former cop and pot hater, had written House Bill 2000. He was also the only sponsor of his bill. This would have gotten rid of the $250 application fee and the $1000 licensing fee called for by the law. Hurst wanted the licenses sold off to the highest bidders and opined that Colorado was getting “500,000 a license” and Washington was getting short-changed by the way 502 was written. As it turns out, the wealthy entrants who can apply for thousands of license may be the big lottery winners anyway and control the majority of the licenses. Worry not….the LCB and the legislature will figure out how squeeze every dime of profit from the industry. They’ll have a state owned pot business where they take all of the profits and incur none of the risks. And you thought you were getting legalization? Shoulda read the fine print.

  8. Marijuana is the safest drug with actual benefits for the user as opposed to alcohol which is dangerous, causes addiction, birth defects, and affects literally every organ in the body. Groups are organizing all over the country to speak their minds on reforming pot laws. I drew up a very cool poster featuring Uncle Willie Nelson and The Teapot Party for the cause which you can check out on my artist’s blog at http://dregstudiosart.blogspot.com/2011/01/vote-teapot-2011.html Drop in and let me know what you think!

  9. These medical marijuana folks just want to do what big pharma does, keep their product behind the glass case and only medically regulated. This is a lot of bogus nonsense and needs to be seen for what it is: A POWER PLAY!

    I’ve always supported the use of marijuana for medical purposes, but if this is how these people want to play it, I can always take my ball and go home, as it were, back with the people who support legalize and tax and don’t give a rodent’s rump about their cause.

    Medical marijuana would be completely set free in a legalize and tax environment. Think about it!

    • Steve Sarich on said:

      To be honest, most of us “medical marijuana folks” could care less about I-502 if it weren’t for the all the new per se DUID charges (three more just added yesterday) and the fact that they now want to turn regulation of medical over to these incompetent liquor distributors. Remember? We, the voters, fired them for too incompetent to distribute liquor. Now they’re being tasked with making medical decisions, like how much medicine I can have and how it should be grown?

      Medical marijuana would NOT be “completely set free in a legalize and tax environment”. I don’t think that anyone would describe being totally regulated by the state liquor control board as being “set free”. And if you I-502 supporters are will to spend $30-$40 a gram for the privilege of shopping in a state cartel store, I say more power to you! Please let me know what that $40 a gram weed tastes like.

      But you don’t tax medicine! I refuse to pay the state a sin tax in order to use the medicine of my choice. Now, if they decide to put a sin tax on ALL pharmaceutical drugs, then we can talk about taxes. But the voters already decided (1998) that it was medicine and that you could only have it legally with a doctors signed recommendation…. just the same as a prescription drug. No tax on medicine…not now…not ever.

      Do you remember how prohibition of marijuana got started? Yep…tax stamps. Where you aware that the LCB has already discussed the possibility of a state marijuana tax stamp? Yep. Be careful what you ask for my friend.

      Steve Sarich
      Cannabis Action Coalition

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