Pot proceeds sought for treating the mentally ill

Staff writerFebruary 3, 2014 

A vendor points out the variety of marijuana for sale at the grand opening of the Seattle location of the Northwest Cannabis Market, for sales of medical marijuana products, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013. Voters in Washington state last fall passed Initiative 502, which legalizes the recreational possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and calls for the creation of state-licensed pot growers, processors and retail stores.


The 2012 initiative that legalized marijuana in Washington set up excise taxes on state-licensed marijuana sales and earmarked half of the revenue for the Basic Health Plan.

Then the Basic Health Plan ceased to exist once the federal government expanded Medicaid health insurance for the poor.

That money is now up for grabs, something rare for a cash-strapped Legislature. It's unclear how much is available.

Lawmakers heard testimony Monday on a proposal to put some of the money into mental-health programs.

Sen. Steve O'Ban proposed Senate Bill 6481. A Democrat, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, has signed on to the Tacoma Republican's plan. A Department of Social and Health Services official voiced support in the hearing.

O'Ban's plan would put 10 percent of the money in question into mental health programs, including those that also treat drug addiction.

The money wouldn't add inpatient space at hospitals. It would mostly be used on programs that help people outside of facilities when they are having a mental-health crisis or that try to keep them from getting to that point.

There may be competition for the money, which is still hypothetical until pot businesses start receiving licenses in a few more weeks. Last year some lawmakers wanted to use it for preschool. O'Ban said mental health programs deserve a piece.

"Everybody, I'm sure, has got an idea of where that money can be used," O'Ban acknowledged in an interview.

The Democrats who control the House have also said they want to put new money into mental health for a second consecutive year. House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Monday they haven't yet settled on how to find the money and what to use it for.


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