In a significant shift within Washington State’s approach to cannabis taxation, medical marijuana patients might soon see the elimination of the hefty 37% tax on cannabis products they’re currently subjected to. Washington, a pioneer in legalizing both medicinal and recreational cannabis, is known for its notably high tax rates on these products.

A pivotal piece of legislation, HB 1453, recently made its way through the Senate, aiming to lift the 37% excise tax burden off medical marijuana patients and their designated providers. This move is crucial as Washington stands out for its lack of tax distinction between medical and recreational cannabis, placing a financial strain on patients utilizing cannabis for health purposes. With a strong majority backing, the bill is now on its way to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk for approval. Upon signing, the new tax exemption for medical cannabis users would kick in 90 days following the end of the current legislative session, marking a major win for patients over recreational consumers.

Washington was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1998 and recreational marijuana in 2012. While the state’s progressive attitude toward cannabis is admirable, being the first to enact a policy often leads to mistakes that are corrected over time. That is what the state is hoping to do with HB 1453. As law firm Harris Sliwoski, which first reported the news, put it, “Washington lawmakers have finally acknowledged that medical cannabis should be treated as a medicine, not a commodity.”

Over the past few years, marijuana has become a more readily available and more commonly prescribed treatment. Studies are ongoing as to what conditions marijuana effectively treats, but patients with chronic conditions like pain, epilepsy, PTSD, and more have shown promising improvement by using marijuana. For many of these conditions, patients have reported that marijuana is the only treatment that has helped them improve.

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With this in mind, such high taxes create an unnecessary roadblock for those who need marijuana to feel better. Medical cannabis is already difficult to access, even in states like Washington that have tried to be at the forefront of legalization. Medical marijuana patients and providers face several obstacles not present when prescribing other types of medicine, like regulations from the LCB and DOH. The strict guidelines imposed on patients and providers discourage them from accessing this important treatment.

High taxes are just another bump in the road for medical cannabis patients. Marijuana is not covered by insurance or public health programs, so it is already an expensive option for patients. The high taxes aimed at recreational users sometimes force medical patients to turn to cheaper but less effective products or recreational cannabis products that do not have the same DOH regulations. The 37% tax accomplishes the opposite of what medical legalization hopes to achieve: safe, regulated, and effective treatment.

HB 1453 intends to reverse this effect and make medical marijuana more accessible to patients who need it. In addition to this promising step, President Biden listed legislation in his Fiscal Year 2025 Budget that would prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency from using federal funds to disrupt state medical marijuana initiatives. This reflects the changing cultural attitude toward medical marijuana and encourages the outlook that cannabis is an effective medical treatment and not just a recreational drug.