The Legislature’s latest stab at regulating medical-marijuana sellers would let them set up shop in King, Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap and five other counties if the counties or their cities so choose – but the effort is hanging by a thread.
Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the Seattle Democrat who has been medical marijuana’s champion in the state Senate, was trying Friday to convince enough members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to sign her legislation and advance it. She was one vote short.
“There’s support for the policies, it’s just gotten caught up in the political right now,” she said.
But opposition has been building for a while now in the Senate, even as Kohl-Welles has scaled back her goals in an attempt to address opposition.
The latest proposal to be discarded: a state registry of patients whose members would gain special protections from arrest. Gov. Chris Gregoire and law enforcement supported it, but the medical marijuana industry has been wary of patients’ names going on a list that could be accessed by police. Kohl-Welles is no longer pursuing it.
Gregoire vetoed Kohl-Welles’ previous legislation last month, leaving the legal landscape even more confusing for medical marijuana outlets. Tacoma is among the cities waiting for guidance and sent a letter of support for the latest iteration of the bill.
Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, a onetime supporter, says lawmakers should stick to the budget and other key matters in the 30-day special session that ends Wednesday. Kohl-Welles said most other Republicans on the panel appear to now agree with Hewitt.
There is also plenty of opposition from Democrats, including Sens. Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Steve Conway of Tacoma. Lawmakers received a letter from Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor earlier this month outlining his opposition.
Just look at the ads in newspapers, Pastor said Friday. The suggestive ads imply the marijuana they’re authorizing for or selling to patients is really intended for recreational use, he said.
“They look a whole lot different from advertisements for most medicine,” he said.
He said ideally the drug should be available to patients as other medicines are. But federal drug laws don’t allow marijuana to be prescribed. Gregoire has vowed to lobby for a change.
In the latest version of the bill, which emerged Friday, dispensaries – which would be known as cooperatives and would be required to register as nonprofits – could locate only in cities or counties that authorized them, and only in larger counties with a population of more than 200,000.
The cooperatives would be legal under a “pilot project” that runs only through 2014. Cities and counties would still have the choice of whether to opt in, an idea dispensaries oppose. “It’s completely elective – nothing mandatory for any local jurisdiction,” Kohl-Welles said.
Currently, cooperatives fall in a disputed area of the law that is interpreted differently from city to city.
The remnants of the previous bill that survived Gregoire’s veto pen eliminated one justification dispensaries have cited for their existence, but the industry thinks it created new legal justifications and plans to fight city by city for the right to operate if nothing changes.
Jordan Schrader: 360-786-1826 email@example.com blog.thenewstribune.com/politics