WA Senate seeks comprehensive medical marijuana reforms

OLYMPIA – 1/11/11-- Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, and Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, along with bipartisan support, introduced new legislation to provide clarity and a stronger legal framework to Washington’s existing medical marijuana laws. 

Senate Bill 5073 and House Bill 1100 would establish a regulatory system for the sale and purchase of medical marijuana for qualifying patients. Current law established under voter-approved I-692 in 1998 permits patients with specified terminal or debilitating medical conditions to grow medical marijuana for personal use or designate a provider to grow on their behalf. Legislation passed in 2007 resulted in the Department of Health setting the allowable amount of marijuana for medical use, and a measure passed last year allows all health professionals having prescriptive authority to authorize medical marijuana.

Under the new bill, the Department of Agriculture would develop regulations through a public rule-making process for growing medical marijuana.  And, patients would be permitted to purchase medical marijuana products from dispensers licensed by the Department of Health or by taking part in a regulated patient collective. 

“There is much ambiguity around our state’s current medical marijuana laws that is resulting in inconsistent enforcement throughout the state,” Kohl-Welles said. “Creating a statutory and regulatory structure for licensing growers and dispensaries will allow us to provide for an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source of the medicine for qualifying patients, address public safety concerns and establish statewide uniformity in the implementation of the law.”

She adds that the bill reflects the tenth draft since last February when she released her first draft. Input from patients, providers, advocates, health professionals, government officials, legislators, law enforcement representatives and others has helped shape the changes included in the bill.

Patients would be exempt from paying sales tax on medical marijuana products, but dispensaries and producers would be required to pay the state Business & Occupation tax.  The legislation would protect legally compliant patients and growers from arrest, search, and prosecution for the use of medical cannabis. Law enforcement would also be required to consult a voluntary registry of patients before conducting warrantless searches or arrests.  Registered patients would be protected against search and seizure unless existing evidence indicated criminal activity was being committed.

"Patients have been questioned and arrested for just having pot in their possession,” Rep. Moeller said. “This law change will clarify what is, and is not medicine and hopefully end the arrests and jail time of patients with legitimate medical needs."

Other provisions include protecting parental rights of medical marijuana patients and protections against the workplace discrimination of patients.  The current legal limits of up to 15 plants and up to 24 ounces of useable marijuana per patient and one patient per provider remain intact.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, chair of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee, applauds the intent and effort to correct the problems patients who use medical cannabis encounter. Keiser says she will hold a public hearing on the proposed legislation next Thursday, January 20th at 1:30pm in Senate Hearing Room 4 of the Cherberg Building.

“Unfortunately, law-abiding users who depend upon medical cannabis are often subject to discrimination,” Keiser said. “This bill works to remedy that situation while creating a strong legal framework to ensure public safety alongside improved service for medical users.”

Summary of Medical Marijuana Reform Bill


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