Washington Senate Approves Less Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill

Jacob SullumJacob SullumOn Saturday the Washington Senate passed a bill that addresses some of the concerns that patients have about new restrictions on medical marijuana. S.B. 5887, introduced by Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), is substantially more permissive than H.B. 2149, the medical marijuana bill approved last month by the state House of Representatives, although both bills would abolish dispensaries, require patients to register with the state, and reduce limits on possession and cultivation. The patient-friendlier provisions of S.B. 5887, which passed by a vote of 34 to 15, include:

Collective gardens. The House bill would ban dispensaries (a.k.a. "collective gardens") as of May 2015, while the Senate bill would let them continue to operate until that September. Even after then, the Senate bill would let patients (or their designated providers) pool their resources and grow marijuana together for their own medical use. S.B. 5887 includes rules aimed at preventing collective gardens from evolving into dispensaries: Just one garden is allowed per location, no more than four patients may grow together at a time, and at least 15 days must elapse after one member leaves before a new member may join. 

Cultivation limit. Each patient (or a designated provider) would be allowed to grow up to six plants (down from 15 currently), but there would be no limit on how many of those six plants could be flowering at one time.

Purchase limits. Patients could buy up to three ounces of marijuana (more if a health professional says it is necessary), 48 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form, 216 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids, and 21 grams of concentrates from the state-licensed pot stores that are supposed to start opening this summer. Those are three times the limits for recreational customers. The current possession limit for patients is 24 ounces of marijuana.

Tax exemptions. When they buy cannabis from stores with "medical marijuana endorsements," registered patients would not have to pay the standard sales tax or the retail-level excise tax, but the latter exemption would expire in September 2015. "I am not happy about that, and we'll be fighting for its reinstatement this week," says Philip Dawdy, media and policy director at the Washington Cannabis Association

Supply and access. The state Liquor Control Board, which would be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board, would be required to "increase the amount of square feet available for production by marijuana producers if the producer agrees to use the extra space to grow products for medical use and for sale to medical marijuana endorsed stores." On the retail end, the board must "reconsider the maximum number of retail outlets permitted and allow for a new license period and a greater number of retail outlets in order to accommodate the medical needs of qualifying patients." When it does so, "a preference may be given to those license applicants who intend to operate a medical-only store."

Medical strains. The Liquor and Cannabis Board must "adopt rules on products sold to qualifying patients under an endorsement, including THC concentration, CBD [cannabidiol] concentration, and THC to CBD ratios appropriate for patient use." State-licensed pot stores would be allowed to "identify the strains, varieties, THC levels and CBD levels" of their products, although state regulations prohibit the sort of symptom-specific advice currently available from dispensaries. "We'll have to work with LCB in rule making to straighten out what people can say," Dawdy says. 

Recommendations. An amendment to S.B. 5887 defines "principal care provider"—the person authorized to recommend marijuana for a patient—as a "health care professional who is designated by a qualifying patient." That provision should help veterans who receive primary care through V.A. hospitals where doctors are not allowed to recommend marijuana.

Affirmative defense. Patients with doctor's recommendations would continue to have an affirmative defense against marijuana charges until April 1, 2016, after which they would have to register with the state, which would give them immunity from arrest.

Registry privacy. In addition to confirming a patient's eligibility for higher purchase limits and tax exemptions, information from the registry could be shared with a law enforcement agency "engaged in a bona fide specific investigation of suspected marijuana-related activity that is illegal under Washington state law." Illegally sharing information from the registry would be a Class C felony.

"I'm not calling it good," Dawdy says, "but it is a workable framework for medical going forward." The Senate and the House have until Thursday to agree on a compromise bill.

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  • SIV||

    require patients to register with the state

    FREEDOM

  • ||

    Uruguay is doing this too (just wrote a paper on it) and they want compete state control and state set pricing of all marijuana shops, but since South American countries have never found a statist policy they didn't like, this wasn't as surprising as learning Washington wanted a registry, or should I not be surprised?

  • Paul.||

    It's sad when 'legalizing' something gives the state massive new powers.

  • anon||

    FREEDOM

    Yeah, still too restrictive for my liking as well, but at least it's a step in the correct direction rather than ... oh, say, locking you up for years for a victim-less "crime."

  • SIV||

    Wearing a yellow star beats a Zyklon B shower.

  • anon||

    I'm just saying it doesn't look like an all-out revolution is gonna happen anytime soon. Short of that, we've gotta settle for baby steps in the right direction; although, I'm only too well aware how easily the Federal Government could abuse such a registry.

  • SIV||

    Under current law just registering would prohibit you from owning firearms.

  • R C Dean||

    There is no splippery slope from wearing a yellow star beats to taking a Zyklon B shower.

  • Scarecrow Repair||

    But this is tilting the slippery slope in the opposite direction: from shower to badge.

  • R C Dean||

    Wow. Who knew you had to adopt so many new rules to increase freedom?

  • Paul.||

    If you lived in this state and read all the articles, you'd go pale.

  • Zeb||

    Well, what'd you expect? I look at it more as undoing a particular egregious injustice than any actual increase in freedom for anyone other than people who would otherwise have been criminally charged for drug offenses. Which is still a good thing.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Wait, didn't Washington just legalize for recreational use? Why the fuck would they possibly need a list of medical patients?

  • SugarFree||

    Considering how long the state has been dragging its feet in setting up recreational retail outlets, it might be a while before patients have anything other than medical outlets and the black market.

  • SIV||

    Would you register with the government as "a habitual user of the narcotic drug marihuana"?

    If they reopened the federal "hospital" you wouldn't have to move very far.

  • Paul.||

    Not if I wanted to keep my gun rights, no.

  • SugarFree||

    I know you have a particularly tart lemon up your ass today, but nothing in my observation is an endorsement of registration.

  • R C Dean||

    My question exactly, BP.

    Once its legal to buy OTC, what do you need prescriptions, special rules, etc. for?

  • Johnysalsen||

    Marijuana is really good at medical purpose. That could supply those who are eligible for a the state's health care weed method having authorized to have access to health care weed while the condition builds up something of licensed.

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