Medical marijuana bill revision stopped short in Olympia
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, made it clear on Tuesday, May 24 that efforts to bolster medical marijuana patient and dispensary rights in Washington are done for the year.
“Regretfully, I have decided not to pursue further attempts this year to strengthen our state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law,” Sen. Kohl-Welles said in a statement.
“Despite having bipartisan support, we were unable to achieve these objectives,” she added. “By far this represents the greatest disappointment of my legislative career.”
For West Seattle and White Center dispensaries that have opened up over the past year, the news could spell an end to their entrepreneurial run.
Known as Senate Bill 5073, the bill originally worked its way to Gov. Gregoire’s desk with sections on legitimizing dispensaries in the state by creating state-controlled licensing. The Governor vetoed the bill in April, claiming her employees would be exposed to federal prosecution for licensing businesses still seen as illegal under federal law.
After the veto, Kohl-Welles pushed a new version of the bill that would change dispensaries to non-profit cooperatives and leave their existence up to individual cities and counties, according to her press release (seen in it’s entirety below).
Ultimately, Kohl-Welles said the updated bill “failed to receive sufficient support to move forward in the remaining days of special session, mainly due to the overriding focus on the budget.”
In an interview with Jonathan Martin of the Seattle Times, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said, “The commercial dispensaries jumped the gun, and are out aggressively marketing their services. Whatever gray area used to exist to allow that is gone now. They are clearly illegal as of July.” The parts of the bill not vetoed by Gov. Gregoire will take effect in July.
Jordan Schrader, a government reporter for Olympia’s News Tribune, sees the situation differently from Satterberg: “The remnants that made it into law also contain some vague references to dispensaries – which the industry hopes to use to convince courts they are indeed legal.”
The next step is keeping an eye on how Washington cities and counties react to the bill’s demise in Olympia. Earlier this month, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott was asked by members of the North Highline Unincorporated Area Council what the county planned to do about the continued proliferation of dispensaries. McDermott said they would have to wait and see what happened in Olympia.
More updates will be added as lawmaker and law enforcement responses arise in the coming weeks.
Here is Sen. Kohl-Welles' statement in its entirety:
"Regretfully, I have decided not to pursue further attempts this year to strengthen our state's voter-approved medical marijuana law.
"My efforts to make improvements to existing law were motivated by the need to provide qualifying patients with protection from arrest and prosecution and access to a safe, secure and reliable source of the medicine they are legally entitled to use and that has been recommended to them by their licensed health care provider. I also sought to increase public safety and provide a bright line for law enforcement in determining those who are authorized patients, regulated growers and dispensers.
"Despite having bipartisan support, we were unable to achieve these objectives. By far, this represents the greatest disappointment of my legislative career.
"Senate Bill 5073, the medical marijuana legislation I originally introduced this session, included many key improvements to the status quo, such as creating a state regulatory system for licensing producers, processers, and dispensaries and protecting patients who voluntarily sign up on a confidential, secure state registry from arrest and prosecution.
"Unfortunately, around the time the bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reinforced its authority to prosecute those involved with commercial dispensaries. As a result, Governor Gregoire vetoed the most substantive parts of SB 5073 out of concern that state employees involved in regulating medical marijuana would be at risk of federal arrest and prosecution. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the situation for patients and their designated providers was exacerbated as a result.
"While the governor did encourage the Legislature to follow-up with a special session bill, it is apparent there is insufficient time to pass a bill addressing these problems at this time.
"My original bill was developed over the course of a year, with significant input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including groups representing patients, designated providers, advocates, local governments, state agencies, and law enforcement.
"But it's very difficult to develop complex policy—especially with multiple stakeholders—in the course of a 30-day special session. And, unfortunately, in the end, it just was not possible to pass a bill that would address the governor's concerns, while meeting the needs of patients and local governments in such a limited time frame.
"The governor also specified that the leaders of the four legislative caucuses agree to move the bill. Unfortunately, that was not possible.
"In addition to my keen disappointment in not being able to improve access and protections for patients, I also regret our failure to provide cities and counties with the tools they need to regulate dispensaries and grow operations. The attached letter submitted by King County Executive Dow Constantine, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes illustrates the challenges faced by local governments.
"My most recent attempt to reform the medical marijuana law would have scaled back the proposal to a pilot program giving local governments in counties with populations greater than 200,000 the option of authorizing and regulating nonprofit patient cooperatives. It also would have created a joint legislative task force to make recommendations to the Legislature next December on issues still needing resolution. But, even this proposal failed to receive sufficient support to move forward in the remaining days of special session, mainly due to the overriding focus on the budget.
"While it is clear this issue has stalled for now, we cannot continue to ignore this issue– it simply will not solve itself. It is clear that the needs of patients and local jurisdictions remain unresolved and will necessitate further legislative efforts."