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Medical marijuana shops may close to make way for recreational stores

SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash. - Med Marijuana shops future in doubt

"Joe's 420 Rx" store off East Trent in Spokane Valley, was founded on a dream of helping sick people.

"I'll be here in three years on January 1st," said owner Joe Heaton.

Joe Heaton's collective sells medical marijuana. He doesn't plan to switch to a recreational shop like some other dispensaries in Spokane County. Soon, he may not have a choice.

"The state is in it for the money now, more than to help the patient out," Heaton said.

The state stands to make tens of millions in taxes on recreational pot sales. Right now, Washington only makes a fraction of that revenue off of medical marijuana.

The Liquor Control Board, Department of Health, and Department of Revenue wrote the recommendations. If they are all adopted, medical pot dispensaries would close. Patients would be directed to buy marijuana at new recreational outlets that have a medical endorsement.

"I think it should be kept two separate things, it was voted in two separate things," Heaton said.

Medical cannabis would be taxed just like recreational weed in the growing, processing, and retail stages. People with medical cards won't be able to grow pot on their own. Patients arrested with more than the legal amount won't be able to use the medical marijuana defense in court anymore. Before, they could claim it was medicine.

A spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, Mikhail Carpenter, says the recommendations help regulate an unregulated business.

"People who are abusing the medical marijuana system and using it for recreational purposes...(it will) move them over to the recreational system which is where they should be in the first place," he said.

Recreational and medical pot industries would basically merge, to force out dispensaries that don't abide by the rules.

"Pharmacies and medicine have regulation and oversight. Medical marijuana dispensaries do not," Carpenter said.

Patients are expecting to pay more for marijuana next year, even though they'll have to pay some, but not all, of the stiff taxes levied by the state.

Joe Heaton says he'll fight the recommendations if they pass, to protect his dream.

"I'll go as far as I can go legally," Heaton said.

The full set of draft recommendations can be viewed here.

Written comments on the recommendations may be submitted at medicalmarijuana@liq.wa.gov through November 8, 2013.