|Graphic: Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Directory
|Dispensaries already exist in at least King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, but if SB 5073 passes the Washington Legislature in 2011, they could operate statewide
Washington lawmakers are spending some time on cannabis this week, discussing both outright legalization as a source of revenue, and legalizing medical marijuana dispensaries to provide safe access for patients under the law approved by voters in 1998.
Supporters of a bill to legalize cannabis made a push to revive a measure they say would be worth $440 million in a two-year state budget cycle, reports Jim Camden at The Spokane Spokesman-Review
. With a state budget deficit projected at more than $5 billion
, that’s a more powerful argument than ever for legalization in the Evergreen State.
HB 1550, the legalization bill sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson (D-Seattle), already had one hearing in the House Public Safety Committee, “where it attracted the usual list of supporters, who noted that some of the Founding Fathers grew hemp, and detractors who warned of growing usage by teens and drivers should marijuana become legal,” noted the Spokesman-Review.
That committee hasn’t yet voted up or down on the bill, but it was granted a special “work session” on Wednesday in the budget-writing House Ways and Means Committee to discuss the money the state might make from legalizing, taxing and selling marijuana in state liquor stores.
“We’re trying to help the Legislature understand the revenue prospects of the bill,” Dickerson said. The state would also save on the costs of arresting, prosecuting and jailing people for marijuana possession, supporters pointed out.
But the bill wouldn’t take effect until 2013, so it wouldn’t help the state’s budget problem for the next two years.
The medical marijuana dispensary bill, SB 5073, has already passed the Senate. On Monday, the House Health Committee presided over the ongoing debate between medical marijuana providers and law enforcement, with a hearing on a proposal to regulate growers, processors and dispensaries, and to allow patients with a doctor’s authorization for cannabis to volunteer to be on a list that protects them from arrest.
The state Agriculture Department would license growers and processors under the medical marijuana dispensary bill. The Health Department would inspect cannabis and set up a regulated supply chain that nets some money for the state. Those who didn’t volunteer for the state patient registry could still be arrested for marijuana possession (as is the case for all patients in the state now), but could also still use the medical “affirmative defense” provided for in the 1998 law at trial.
Steve Sarich, of Seattle-based CannaCare, which operates both a medical marijuana authorization clinic and a dispensary, said the timelines and requirements for inspections are unrealistic because the state has no marijuana testing labs and no private labs in the state test a drug the federal government considers illegal.
Similar labs exist in California and Colorado and do testing for dispensaries, but some of them have been raided by federal Drug Enforcement Administration agents.
The bill requires dispensaries to be nonprofit corporations, but the Internal Revenue Service won’t give nonprofit status to a business that sells marijuana, Sarich said.
Civil liberties groups objected to the voluntary patient list, saying the privacy of patients can’t be guaranteed, and that if the alternative to being on the list is being arrested, it’s not really very voluntary.
Marijuana advocates are also concerned that SB 5073, as currently amended
, would attack doctors by placing several chilling restrictions on health care professionals that authorize the medical use of cannabis, would outlaw collective growing by more than three patients, and would ban all advertising by dispensaries, raising free speech issues.