Last night, I facilitated the Cannabis Defense Coalition’s March Public Meeting. It was the largest public meeting I can remember, primarily because of the continued erosion of the medical marijuana bill that’s been making its way through the legislature. A number of amendments have been tacked onto the bill that have drawn concerns from patients to health care professionals to business owners to even some city governments. A few of the issues involved (in no particular order):
– Extra language added to section 301 would give the state incredible power to target health care professionals who provide health care authorizations. These restrictions were designed to target what’s become seen as the stereotype of the “pot doctor”, but they go way too far in several other ways and would actually endanger both patients and the numerous health care professionals who provide legitimate authorizations. For example, if a patient was diagnosed with cancer by one doctor and referred to a specialist, that specialist could come under fire for authorizing medical marijuana.
– Arrest protection was removed for people who aren’t signed up in a state registry database, which might not be completed for several years. This means that individuals with valid authorization forms in their possession could still be arrested. If this isn’t fixed, it’s likely that the various constituents lobbying for this bill will demand that the bill be removed. This is clearly a deal-breaker.
– An added clause regarding medical marijuana advertising is also very controversial. UW law professor Stewart Jay says it’s unconstitutional, and several members of The Stranger were present last night, as this issue could significantly impact their advertising business.
– State cooperative grows are now limited to only 3 people and 45 plants. The original bill had the limit of 25 people and 99 plants (99 plants keeps it under a particular federal plant limit). This provision is more important for the rural parts of the state where a dispensary may not be nearby. One person suggested 6 people and 90 plants, which I thought was an acceptable compromise. Others might still think that’s too few people.
– There was a lot of confusion about whether dispensers and growers would be protected if a system for licensing them wasn’t set up by July 1, 2012, as specified in the bill. This concern was brought up by Steve Sarich, and few other people in the room seemed aware of this issue. It seems to be a conclusion he arrived at by reading through the fiscal note for the bill. The lobbyist for the Washington Cannabis Association, Ezra Eickmeyer, was also in the room and seemed to think it was worth looking into.
– In the original bill, state pre-emption made it so that localities would only be able to implement zoning restrictions around dispensaries, but couldn’t outlaw them entirely. That’s been changed to allow local areas to establish their own limits. In California, it’s done this way and it’s led to a fair bit of chaos. In fact, Eickmeyer noted that a number of cities were in favor of the original language and are working closely with proponents of the bill to make sure we get this right.
– Language that imposed penalties on law enforcement or other government officials for divulging the private information in the state patient registry was removed. There were concerns that without a deterrent, it would lead to violations.
Also mentioned last night was something that I haven’t seen reported in the press. HB1550, the full legalization bill that would allow for regulation and sale to adults in the state’s liquor store system, was advanced in the House by Speaker Chopp marking the bill NTIB (“Necessary To Implement Budget”). Only a handful of people were aware of this, so I don’t have any more details, but it’s a good sign that Speaker Chopp is starting to recognize the value that a bill like this has at a time when budgets are tight.
UDPATE: Eli Sanders was present at the meeting and posts up a recap.
UDPATE 2: Audio of the meeting is available here.