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Tacoma Attorney Jay Berneburg on Medical Marijuana Integrity

Russ Belville

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I was in Tacoma, Washington this weekend delivering a presentation at a cannabis event. I also had the chance to enjoy other presentations while there, including one from a local criminal defense attorney named Jay Berneburg. With all the upheaval in Washington State’s medical marijuana law following the passage of Senate Bill 5052, I took a few minutes to speak with Jay on how he sees the evolution—or de-evolution—of Washington State’s dispensary scene.

Listen below for the full interview—an edited transcript of some of the relevant points is included.

“RADICAL” RUSS: In your presentation, you talked a lot about the evolution of Washington State’s marijuana laws, both in the medical and the recreational side now… I thought it was very telling in your presentation that you didn’t shy away from integrity issues…

JAY BERNEBURG: People came to me and asked, “How do we do this without getting arrested?” The first thing I told people is if you don’t want to get arrested, you need integrity. “Medical” has to be medical. You know, if I’m going to say “medical” and start giggling when I say it, we’ve got a problem…

I had a judge tell me once, “Oh, yeah, medical marijuana. I got a haircut and now my hair hurts.” And this is what they think is happening. The legislature, one of the committees down there, says that more than 99 percent of medical marijuana is, in fact, recreational. Now, we know this isn’t true. We know there’s abuses, we know that there are problems, and you know, our biggest problem has been ourselves.

RR: You brought up how, in the development of who’s going to get which licenses, how people who, here in the Tacoma area, followed the law and said, “no, we’re not a business, we’re just a collective, we’re not in this for transactions,” [they] might be further behind than the people in Seattle who went ahead and said, “Oh, well, all right, we’re a business, we’ll pay sales taxes, we’ll pay licenses.”

JB: Yeah, that’s going to be a real problem. When we talk about the opposition to 502 [the legalization initiative from 2012] from the medical perspective, a lot of people, oh, they’re screaming and crying, saying it’s the end of medical, it’s the end of medical. Well, it depends on what you mean by that.

You know, right now if I’m a patient, and I have cancer or a debilitating medical condition, and I want medicine, it’s not tested. I have to trust the people I’m getting it from. Does it have insecticide on it? Is it a high CBD? Is it Harlequin? Does it have mold? I don’t know.
But if I’m partying, and I want to get high, I know everything about that—from seed to sale. We BioTrack it, man. I know when it went from veg to flower, you know? We know everything about it.

So, when we take our medical marijuana, and we put it into this system where we’re tracking it, testing it, quality control, ultimately that could be better for the patients, if it’s done right.

Where people are bitching, is that since 1998, an economy has grown up around medical marijuana as it currently exists. Multi-million dollars, thousands of people participating in it, you know, many of them are patients who are on SSI disability, [who] supplement their income by working with other patients and participating in this economy. And with 502, and this blending, the state has effectively just taken that away.

And so a lot of people are, when they say it’s the end of medical marijuana, what they are talking about is the culture and economy that’s grown up around it. Yes, that’s going to go away.

Medical marijuana access for patients, no, it’s not going to go away. It’s actually going to be better and pricing is going to be similar, in spite of people’s fears.

Listen below for the rest of the interview as Jay Berneburg critiques lotteries for marijuana licensing, social and cultural isolation, and whether Washington State moving forward will have an inclusive or exclusive process for licensing.

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