|Washington State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles: “Creating a statutory and regulatory structure for licensing growers and dispensaries will allow us to provide for an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source of the medicine for qualifying patients”|
New legislation to provide clarity and a stronger legal framework for Washington’s existing medical marijuana laws was introduced in the Legislature on Tuesday.
Senate Bill 5073 and House Bill 1100, introduced by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle and Rep. Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver), would establish a regulatory system for the sale and purchase of medical marijuana by qualifying patients. Current law, established under voter-approved I-692 in 1998, permits patients with specified terminal or debilitating medical conditions to grow medical marijuana for personal use or designate a provider to grow on their behalf.
Under the new bill, the Department of Agriculture would develop regulations through a public rule-making process for growing medical marijuana. Patients would be permitted to buy medical marijuana products from dispensers licensed by the Department of Health or by taking part in a regulated patient collective.
“There is much ambiguity around our state’s current medical marijuana laws that is resulting in inconsistent enforcement throughout the state,” Kohl-Welles said. “Creating a statutory and regulatory structure for licensing growers and dispensaries will allow us to provide for an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source of the medicine for qualifying patients, address public safety concerns and establish statewide uniformity in implementation of the law.”
|Photo: House Democrats|
|Rep. Jim Moeller: “Patients have been questioned and arrested for just having pot in their possession”|
Kohl-Welles added that the bill reflects the tenth draft since last February when she released her first draft. She said input from patients, providers, advocates, health professionals, government officials, legislators, law enforcement, and others has helped shape the changes in the bill.
Patients would be exempt from paying sales tax on medical marijuana products, but dispensaries and producers would be required to pay the state Business & Occupation (B&O) tax.
The legislation would protect legally compliant patients and growers from arrest, search, and prosecution for the use of medical cannabis. Patients currently have only an “affirmative defense” once they get to court, and can be searched for the mere smell of cannabis in their homes and can theoretically be arrested over and over if officers find marijuana. This, unfortunately, is more than a theoretical concern for many patients in more rural and/or cannabis-intolerant sections of the state.
Law enforcement would also be required to consult a voluntary registry of patients before conducting warrantless searches or arrests. Patients who choose to register would be protected against search and seizure unless existing evidence indicated criminal activity was being committed.
“Patients have been questioned and arrested for just having pot in their possession,” Rep. Moeller said. “This law change will clarify what is, and is not medicine, and hopefully end the arrests and jail time of patients with legitimate medical needs.”
|Photo: Senate Democrats|
|Sen. Karen Keiser: “Unfortunately, law-abiding users who depend upon medical cannabis are often subject to discrimination”|
Other provisions include protecting parental rights of medical marijuana patients and protections against the workplace discrimination of patients. The current legal limits of up to 15 plants and 24 ounces of usable marijuana per patient and one patient per provider remain intact.
Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), chair of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee, applauded the intent and effort to correct the problems encountered by patients who use medical cannabis. Keiser said she would hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation on Thursday, January 20 at 1:30 p.m. in Senate Hearing Ropom 4 of the Cherberg Building.
“Unfortunately, law-abiding users who depend upon medical cannabis are often subject to discrimination,” Keiser said. “This bill works to remedy that situation while creating a strong legal framework to ensure public safety alongside improved service for medical users.”
Washington’s original medical marijuana law, passed by voters in 1998, has already been amended twice by the Legislature.
Legislation passed in 2007 resulted in the Department of Health setting the allowable amount of marijuana for medical use at 15 plants and 24 dried ounces, and a measure passed last year allows all health professionals having prescriptive authority to authorize medical marijuana.
Bills Are Available Online
The Senate and House versions of the bill are available online for review.