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In 2012, Washington and Colorado voters made history when they approved measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington Initiative 502 “authorizes the state liquor board to regulate and tax marijuana for persons twenty-one years of age or older.”Since the vote in Washington, the Liquor Board has written a complex set of rules for the state’s new, legal recreational cannabis marketplace. The agency has also set limits on the amount of marijuana that can be grown. And the Board has begun to license growers, processors and retailers.For now, the Obama administration has signaled it will not interfere with Washington and Colorado’s legal pot experiment, unless there is evidence that legal pot is “leaking” to other states or children are getting access to the legal product. The feds are also watching to see if criminal organizations exploit the legal market.The first marijuana retail stores in Washington opened in July 2014.Recreational marijuana is also set to become legal in Oregon on July 1, 2015 after voters approved Measure 91 in November 2014.

Dispensary Owner, Iraq Veteran Patient Both Wary Of Medical Marijuana Regulation

Thursday is Medical Cannabis Lobby Day at the Washington Capitol. State lawmakers say this is the year they will rein in the state’s “Wild West” medical pot industry.

But at least one dispensary owner fears he’ll go out of business as a result. And one of his customers -- an Iraq War veteran -- worries that regulation will price him out of his medication.

Rainier Xpress is a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Olympia. Inside, owner Patrick Seifert is proud to show off his “wall of honor.”

“And these are all veterans that are patients here,” Seifert said.

It’s a wall of photographs showing Seifert’s patients when they were in the military.

Pointing to one of the photos Seifert said, “This gentlemen, Johnny, he’s a patient here. He’s got seven bullet holes in his back. He’s a war hero. That’s with Colin Powell.”

Seifert himself is a veteran. “Marine Corps veteran,” he stressed.

Opiates vs cannabis

Seifert estimated a third or more of his clients are former military. As if on cue, Alvin Jenson limps into the dispensary sporting a hospital wrist band.

“Just came out of the Emergency Room for a torn quadricep,” Jensen explained.

He did it playing football with his son. Jenson has a prescription for Vicodin, but he’s determined not to fill it. He’s come here for a tube of cannabis-infused topical lotion and two grams of some marijuana bud called,“Lemon Skunk.”

Jenson, a 28-year-old former Army combat engineer, rattled off his medical diagnoses: “PTSD, TBI, degenerative arthritis of the lumbar spine, chronic nerve inflammation and damage.”

Jenson is medically retired from the Army. He said he used to be on a cocktail of medications. But he was still in pain and he felt like a zombie.

Now he sounds like an infomercial for medical pot.

“I got to a point in my life where I was suicidal and since switching over I haven’t looked back,” he said.

But now Jenson worries what will happen when the state cracks down on marijuana dispensaries -- something Washington lawmakers vow to do this year.

'A regulated market for everybody'

“The hope here is that we have a regulated market for everybody,” said state Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat. She said the current system endangers patients because there are no standards.

“We know, however, that there are some outstanding dispensaries operating now who provide invaluable service to patients and I would like to see them be able to continue,” she said.

Kohl-Welles proposed to give dispensaries a path to licensure under the state’s new recreational marijuana system -- if they’ve been paying their taxes. Republican state Senator Ann Rivers also wants to reward above-board medical shops.

“Under the plan that I have you can just be a medical store,” she said.

Rivers proposed an expedited licensing process for dispensaries. But she would prohibit them from selling smokable marijuana.

“We don’t smoke aspirin, we don’t smoke hydrocodone if we want the maximum medicinal benefit,” Rivers said.

Rivers would allow the dispensaries to sell pre-loaded vapor inhalers.

Spiking medical cannabis prices?

Patrick Seifert at Rainier Xpress supports regulation, but said a ban on selling smokable marijuana would put him out of business. Army vet Alvin Jenson has another concern -- the potential for a spike in the price of medical cannabis.

“Going in and paying 30 percent more than I pay at a shop like this would be ridiculous,” Jenson said. “I wouldn’t be able to afford my medication every month.”

Jenson said that would drive him into the black market or he’d figure out how to grow the plants himself. Lawmakers respond that concerns about prices are overblown. They say their goal is to protect patients while aligning Washington’s medical marijuana market with the state’s new recreational industry.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."