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After a legislative committee hearing this morning, a sweeping medical-marijuana bill is back on track. In a six-to-five vote, members of the House Health and

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Medical-Marijuana Bill, Nearly Derailed, Is Back on Track

dispensary01 square.jpg
After a legislative committee hearing this morning, a sweeping medical-marijuana bill is back on track. In a six-to-five vote, members of the House Health and Wellness Committee beat back a number of onerous amendments from the Senate that had threatened to derail the bill, according to Philip Dawdy, spokesperson for the trade group known as the Washington Cannabis Association.

As originally submitted by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, Senate Bill 5073 was to bring the gray medical-marijuana market into the light, and for the first time offer arrest protection for the cancer patients and others who use the drug. But first in a Senate committee, and then on the chamber's floor, legislators weakened many of the key elements of the bill.

Arrest protection, for instance, would only be offered to those who signed up for a new state registry--something many medical-marijuana users, distrustful of police, are reluctant to do.

The pot-distribution shops known as dispensaries would also, more than likely, still remain gray in vast areas of the state. That's because Senate members added an amendment stipulating that dispensaries would only be legal if they had both a license from their local authority (the city or county where they are located) and specific authorization from a local ordinance allowing such businesses. Many cities and counties, of course, would pass no such ordinance.

In addition, the bill that passed the Senate would put many doctors used by medical-marijuana patients out of business. It forbids doctors from seeing patients for the sole purpose of issuing pot authorizations, and for many of the doctors in the marijuana business, that is exactly what they do.

Driving back to Seattle from Olympia just after the vote, Dawdy says the version of the bill passed by the House committee changed all those things. The bill prevents police from arresting even patients not on the registry, although Dawdy, who hadn't yet had time to study the new language, thinks there still is a distinction made between those who do and don't sign up with the state. Those who don't, he believes, might be prosecuted (even if they are never dragged down to the station in handcuffs).

And the House committee struck the amendments on local control of dispensaries and on physicians seeing patients just to authorize cannabis. "It's all headed in a good direction," he says.

Still, the bill's current iteration leaves a couple of elements that displease medical-marijuana advocates. It would forbid doctors from centering their entire business on cannabis authorizations (even if they could center one individual patient's visit on such), according to Dawdy. So the kind of doctors that sometimes advertise in Seattle Weekly, with pictures of pot leaves prominently displayed, might be in trouble.

Actually, they're not the only advertisers who would be in trouble, since the bill as it currently stands would forbid any type of advertising--in print or broadcast media as well as on billboards--that promotes marijuana.

The bill is not yet in its final version, however. It goes before another committee in the House before a floor vote and resubmission to the Senate.

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