Medical Marijuana Legislation Gets Another Shot in Washington State

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire says she wants all the states that allow medical marijuana to ask the federal government to reclassify the drug.

She scheduled a conference call among those states Thursday. Meanwhile, a state Senate committee heard testimony Wednesday on a last ditch effort to pass an overhaul of Washington’s medical marijuana law.

Medical marijuana advocates have been trying to pass a bill to allow marijuana dispensaries.

Last month, Governor Chris Gregoire vetoed large parts of their bill. She said it would’ve put state workers in the position of violating federal law.

The new bill would instead leave regulation of dispensaries to local cities and counties. But many of the advocates who supported the vetoed marijuana bill don’t support this new one.

Phillip Dawdy speaks for the Washington Cannabis Association.

Phillip Dawdy: “This bill was written to please law enforcement, the federal government and the governor, and it’s just a hodgepodge of ideas that are not going to work very well without substantial modifications.”

The Governor says she’ll only consider the new medical marijuana bill if both the Republicans and the Democrats in the House and Senate agree on it.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia allow medical marijuana for certain patients.

Governor Gregoire says she’ll suggest the states join together to petition the federal government to reclassify cannabis as a schedule II drug. That would allow doctors to prescribe it.

– Article Originally from Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Both sides weigh in on revised medical-marijuana bill

By Jonathan Martin, The Seattle Times

A second attempt to reform the state’s medical-marijuana law now grinding through Olympia is drawing as much criticism as its predecessor, which Gov. Chris Gregoire partially vetoed last month.

Despite concerns, lawmakers are under pressure to act during the legislative session because Gregoire’s veto — which left some parts of the law intact — muddled already confusing parts of the 1998 voter-approved law.

At a committee hearing Wednesday, medical marijuana’s prime legislative champion, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, said she worked quickly to resolve key problems, including patient access to marijuana and questions of how to monitor newly legal 45-plant “collective gardens.”

She urged lawmakers to act. “We have a gray area of the law, and the law is worse than it started out to be,” said Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

The new bill, SB 5955, for the first time would give arrest protection for patients who enroll in a voluntary registry and would give local governments broad power to regulate newly legalized nonprofit dispensaries.

Each of those elements drew criticism in brief public comments. Thurston County Sheriff John Snaza said legalized dispensaries and collective gardens will be difficult to monitor if they decline to enroll on the registry. “We think it will make it more difficult for local law enforcement,” he said.

Rachel Kurtz of the Cannabis Defense Coalition, a patient-advocacy group in Seattle, said patients will feel coerced to join the registry despite concerns that it invades medical privacy.

A member of her group, John Worthington, said the local control authority in the new bill would allow cities and counties to overrule a doctor’s medical advice regarding appropriate marijuana dosages. It would allow cities to be “practicing medicine without a license,” he said.

Unlike the version Gregoire vetoed, this bill exempts dispensary sales from state sales tax. The state Department of Revenue estimated in February that taxed marijuana sales would generate least $2.1 million in the 2011-13 budget, although the figure could be much higher.

The most pressure to act in the special session comes from municipal governments. Randy Lewis, Tacoma’s lobbyist, said the proliferation of dispensaries and confusion after Gregoire’s veto produced “chaos in our communities.”

Seattle also has embraced the pending bill, fearing that without legalized dispensaries, patients will struggle to get marijuana. “Without a new bill, we are concerned collective gardens will spring up all over the city,” creating a headache for police and neighborhoods, said Aaron Pickus, spokesman for Mayor Mike McGinn.

– Article Originally from The Seattle Times.