Commentary: Washington state marijuana laws at odds with reality

Medical marijuana advocates made a deal with the voters in 1998 with Initiative 692: no sales, no shops, no dispensaries, no co-ops, nothing that would even vaguely resemble a legalized dope industry.

The year before, Washingtonians had rejected a loophole-riddled initiative that would have abetted the loosey-goosey quasi-commercialization already seen in California. I-692 included a crucial safeguard: authorized patients could use marijuana, but they had to grow their own supply or have it provided by a caregiver. No money was to change hands.

One patient per caregiver: The law explicitly says the caregiver must "possess no more marijuana than is necessary for the patient's personal medical use." And he or she must "be the primary caregiver to only one patient at one time." That language would not be in there had the law envisioned shops with scores or hundreds of paying customers.

But dispensaries selling to multiple, paying customers is exactly what Washington has been seeing in recent months – in Tacoma, Spokane and elsewhere. Their operators appear to be hoping that police, prosecutors and courts will adopt a de facto tolerance policy toward "exchanges" that bill themselves as medical providers.

Three of these dispensaries have opened in Tacoma. Another, the "Green Buddha Patient Network," operates out of Seattle and reportedly sells to more than 1,000 users statewide. Because the state has expansive guidelines on how much marijuana an individual patient can possess, growers often have surpluses. Those surpluses are getting marketed through the exchanges, all under the benign auspices of medicine.

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