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STEVE ELLIOTT

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Packets of recreational marijuana named "Space Needle" during packaging operations at Sea of Green Farms in Seattle [KPLU]
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Packets of recreational marijuana named “Space Needle” during packaging operations at Sea of Green Farms in Seattle
[KPLU]

The press blitz began months ago, and it became absolutely inescapable once 2015 started. Article after article has appeared in the mainstream press about the supposed need to extinguish medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington.

The largely untold side to this story is that of mom-and-pop marijuana businesses, serving seriously ill patients, that are seen as “the competition” and are thus slated for extinction by greedy I-502 interests. Supporters of “folding” medical marijuana into the recreational system claim that safe access would be unaffected by suddenly doubling, tripling or quadrupling the price patients have to pay, even while reducing the number of safe access outlets in Seattle, for instance, from about 200 to about half a dozen.

I-502 author Alison Holcomb, left, and City Attorney Pete Holmes [KPLU]
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I-502 author Alison Holcomb, left,
and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes

[KPLU]

Among the more shrill attackers of what they claim are “untaxed, unregulated” businesses are Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes and ACLU attorney Alison Holcomb, the author of Initiative 502. Most activists who’ve been paying attention have known for years that neither Holmes nor Holcomb is a friend of the medical marijuana community.

Instead of upping their game in a competitive environment, the I-502 recreational stores, which quickly gained well-deserved reputations for both subpar pot and outrageous prices, want to clear the field of their pesky (read: usually superior in both price and quality) competitors on the medical side.

Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers wants to take marijuana out of medical marijuana dispensaries. [Washington State Wire]
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Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers wants to take marijuana out of medical marijuana dispensaries.
[Washington State Wire]

Nobody’s surprised by the assault coming in the form of onerous bills from Republican state Sen. Ann Rivers and Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles — those are at least known enemies who have made no effort to hide their desire to kill collective gardens and dispensaries as we know them. Rivers, in a near-comic attempt to please everyone, proposed allowing dispensaries to stay open, but banning dried marijuana sales at them.

Rivers claimed her goal is to “harmonize” medical marijuana with I-502. But the real goal, of course, is to clear the field of competition for the recreational marijuana stores and the lucrative source of tax dollars they represent to state lawmakers.

Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles wants to eliminate patient collective gardens. [KPLU]
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Democratic state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles wants to eliminate patient collective gardens.
[KPLU]

According to one source in the know, Rivers’ original strategy was to get current medical dispensary owners on board with her plan. But she also was listening to some 502 store lobbyists who still didn’t want any competition, so they came up with the absurd “no marijuana flowers in medical dispensaries” idea. After, all those lobbyist dollars from the Washington Cannabusiness PAC (I-502 business owners) couldn’t go to waste, now could they?

Holmes, for his part, came right out and said, “If you’re a commercial (medical marijuana) operation lacking a 502 license, it’s a felony operation. Period.” That’s not really a surprise coming from a guy who was such a big supporter of I-502 that he now wants to extinguish the competition.

Damn few people really expected Alison Holcomb, as the author of I-502, to be honest about its potentially devastating effects on the patient community, nor on its farcically sputtering start. Equally unsurprising was the deeply unflattering spectacle of Holcomb using the press to urge raids and felony charges against medical marijuana dispensary operators. This from an “activist” who, in November, took the lead on a national ACLU campaign to slash mass incarceration rates, which are driven by the very drug arrests that Holcomb is now urging.

Kevin Oliver spouted off at Seattle Hempfest about how "I-502 wouldn't affect patients." Patients will have to pay from twice to four times as much at Oliver's I-502 marijuana store.
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NORML National Board member Kevin Oliver spouted off at Seattle Hempfest about how “I-502 wouldn’t affect patients.” Patients will have to pay from twice to four times as much at Oliver’s I-502 marijuana store.

But what enters a whole other realm of unseemly greed is when the state director of the Washington chapter of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws — conspicuously makes himself a part of the chorus calling for an end to medicinal Cannabis as we know it. How shameless does someone have to be while calling himself an “activist” and simultaneously working to line his own pockets by forcing people to buy the expensive, underpowered weed in his 502 store?

That’s right: Kevin Oliver, who not only serves as state director but also sits on NORML’s national board, is the proud owner of an I-502 recreational marijuana store license, and he can hardly wait to become the only game in town when patients need their medicine.

Oliver grandly announced in a January interview with the Cannabis Business Times that the first six months of I-502’s implementation were — get this — a “dress rehearsal.” That would certainly come as interesting news to the I-502 license holders who have either gone out of business or struggled to survive; they could be forgiven for assuming their asses were on the line.

He can practically taste the profits already [KSFC]
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He can practically taste the profits already
[KSFC]

But that isn’t even the worst part of Oliver’s bloviated, self-important interview. That would be where Oliver, supposedly an advocate for marijuana rights, claims that Washington patients won’t suffer hardship if forced to buy weed at 502 stores at double or triple the price of dispensaries. And even while patients certainly will be suffering in such a scenario, a delighted Oliver will be laughing all the way to the bank.

Yay NORML!

Never mind that recreational weed costs two, three, even four times as much as weed in medical collectives. Never mind that more than 200 pesticides are specifically allowed — by name — on state-store recreational weed. Let’s not think about the effects all those chemicals could be having on patients with compromised immune systems and liver function. And even while allowing all those pesticides, the state doesn’t test for them.

Alison Holcomb and the truth seem to have permanently parted ways sometime in 2012.
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Alison Holcomb and the truth seem to have permanently parted ways sometime in 2012.

Patients need, according to these folks, to pipe down and accept their fate, which apparently is acting as though they are indistinguishable from recreational marijuana users.

Ironically, Oliver, who’s now proudly sitting there on his 502 license, repeated ad nauseum back in the 2012 campaign that “I-502 won’t affect patients.” Maybe in Oliver’s mind, shutting down the collective garden/dispensary system and forcing patients into the recreational model to pay two to four times as much for their badly needed medicine isn’t “affecting them.” One must speculate whether it’s greed or other factors that led a supposed activist to such callous disregard for human misery.

Will greedy I-502 profiteers be able to persuade the Washington Legislature to shut down their competition (the medical dispensaries)? Stay tuned on that one.

But with Native American Cannabis sales coming soon to Washington — and after that, nationwide — it seems the recreational marijuana storeowners are going to have a lot more to worry about than just the medical dispensaries.

Editor’s note: This article was written for, and originally appears, in the February issue of the Northwest Leaf.

 

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