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Posted on Jan 15, 2015

Another shot at pot: Lawmakers prepare marijuana follow-up bills

OLYMPIA–Two years after Washington voters ended pot prohibition, lawmakers are wading through a thicket of proposed reforms that aim to stabilize an industry struggling to get off the ground.

“Right now I call it the wild, wild west,” Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said last week at the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview. “We’ve got incongruities in this law that we need to solve.”

With seven new cannabis-related bills pre-filed come seven new opportunities to shape Washington’s unprecedented cannabis experiment. From a complete overhaul of medical marijuana to giving those charged with misdemeanor pot crimes a chance at a clean slate, little related to the marijuana issue seems to be off the table.

The possible impacts range from subtle to sweeping.

For starters, Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Pacific County, and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, teamed up to sponsor SB 5003, which would raise the excise tax on cannabis from 25 percent to 26 percent.

Hatfield also co-sponsored SB 5012 with Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, in order to kick-start Washington’s hemp industry by giving Washington State University researchers an August 2016 deadline to determine if and how such an industry could be properly established.

One of the larger challenges the Legislature may face is finding a balance between establishing a fully state-regulated system and not infringing on the rights of legitimate medical-marijuana users. However, finding that balance becomes even more complicated when discussing how to properly incorporate medical dispensaries into the system voters authorized two years ago with the passage of Initiative 502.

“The most important thing is to come up with a legally sanctioned, safe system for medical-marijuana users,” Gov. Jay Inslee said at the AP Legislative Preview.

Sens. Rivers and Hatfield outlined their solution in SB 5052, which has been making headlines. It would require medical dispensaries to exclusively sell edibles and marijuana concentrates if they want to stay open, rather than the dry, smokeable cannabis they sell today.

But SB 5052 stands in direct opposition to a bill Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is expected to file in the upcoming weeks, which would fold the entire medical marijuana system into the I-502 structure while cutting back taxes and allowing the average consumer to grow up to six personal plants.

Inslee noted he is open to aspects of both bills and he will be working with their sponsors and other lawmakers to find the best solution between them.

A bill co-sponsored last year by Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, has been given second life and is to be reintroduced during this session as well. HB 1020, dubbed the “Ric Smith Memorial Act,” prohibits medical professionals from determining a patient’s eligibility for an organ transplant based solely on their use of medical cannabis.

The bill is named for the Seattle pot activist who died in 2012 from kidney dialysis complications after doctors denied his request for a transplant, unsure of how his heavy marijuana consumption would impact the success of the procedure. But the Ric Smith Memorial Act would also protect medical patients from being evicted from their homes because of their cannabis use, particularly if the property owner already permits tobacco use on site.

However, not all the bills pre-filed this session spell good news for pot smokers. Sen. Rivers also has sponsored SB 5002, which aims to stop stoned driving by making it a traffic infraction to drive while an unsealed container of cannabis is present in the car, whether it’s the driver’s or not. The law would require any amount of cannabis en route to somewhere else be behind an unbroken seal, with all of its original contents still in place.

Those with pre-existing marijuana misdemeanors could get some relief if HB 1041 is enacted, which would allow for individuals to apply to have those convictions wiped from their records, as long as they were over the age of 21 when the offense was committed. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, sponsors the bill after his attempt to pass similar legislation last year failed to make it to the House floor.


— By Cooper Inveen, WNPA Olympia News Bureau



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