Washington House legalizes medical marijuana as feds crack down on Michigan dispensaries

News came from both sides of the culture war over marijuana today, as the March arrest by DEA agents of a Saginaw, Mich., doctor who prescribed medical marijuana to patients comes to light a day after the Washington State House of Representatives passed a bill legalizing cannabis dispensaries and grow houses.

The Michigan arrest seems to be a return to a tactic first used by the federal government shortly after California became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996.

The news out of Washington, however, seems to be part of a larger trend of increasing legitimization of the medical marijuana industry even in the face of growing federal crackdowns. The bill is likely to pass the state Senate, which advanced a different version of it in March and, like the House, is Democrat-controlled. Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire, however, has expressed reservations. “At this point, I have concerns about it,” she told the Seattle Times, though she didn’t clarify further.

The Times reports:

Police, municipal governments and patient advocates have pressed the Legislature to fix vague elements in the 1998 citizens initiative that legalized medical marijuana. In the absence of clarity, more than 100 dispensaries have opened statewide under questionable legal status, concerning police.

The resulting bill, SB 5073, is the biggest overhaul since 1998. During debate on the House floor Monday, Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, recalled a relative whose end-of-life suffering was eased by medical marijuana. “We owe it to this state to be compassionate in these times,” she said.

Republicans in the legislature have lodged their opposition. However, the prospect of $100 million in annual tax revenue, as projected by the Washington Department of Revenue should dispensaries be responsible for sales tax at the same rate as other businesses, may be too good to pass up at a time when states across the country are suffering from severe budget shortfalls. Washington’s current deficit is projected to be around $5.1 billion.

The Times continues:

Medical-marijuana entrepreneurs, however, already are looking forward. The Department of Health has received 11 “letters of intent” from people interested in dispensary licenses, spokesman Donn Moyer said. The Department of Agriculture has received at least three letters inquiring about grower permits.

And medical-marijuana companies are rushing to incorporate with the secretary of state, seeking to beat the May 1 deadline by which future license-holders must be registered as an entity. At least two dozen nonprofit and for-profit groups have incorporated recently with “marijuana” or “cannabis” in their titles, including “Cannabis Oasis” and “Pappy’s Medical Marijuana LLC.”

“I’m nervously optimistic,” said Philip Dawdy, spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association, a newly formed medical-marijuana trade group, which hired a lobbyist this year.

The official channels the new dispensaries are going through, along with language in the bill that gets very specific on issues like the ratio of residents in a community to the number of dispensaries allowed, point to the all-business approach that cannabis industry experts say is necessary for the future success of dispensaries. Yet as that corporatization of the cannabis industry has grown, so has the federal push against it. It’s now up to the federal government alone to resolve that tension.

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