The final version of the medical-marijuana-reform bill SB 5073 has now cleared both houses of the Washington State Legislature and is soon to be on its way to Gov. Chris Gregoire for its most important moment of truth. Meanwhile, the bill's original author, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, who only last week was "very unhappy" with amendments to the bill that stripped some of the patient protections from it, is in Olympia sweating out the anticipation of whether the governor will veto the law and finding that her earlier criticism may have been too strong.
Kohl-Welles was deeply concerned last week when an amendment by Enumclaw Rep. Christopher Hurst passed that denied the bill's arrest protections to people who don't sign up for the state's voluntary registry that keeps track of everyone who has a valid medical-marijuana prescription.
As Weekly reporter Nina Shapiro reported at the time, the Senator saw the amendment as creating a roadblock for patients, many of whom are very hesitant to sign their names on any government list that notes them as a pot patient.
"I know Rep. Hurst wanted to encourage people to sign up for the registry," Kohl-Welles says. She speculates, however, that patients' continuing vulnerability to searches will serve as a "disincentive."
Today, Sen. Kohl-Welles has decided that the amendment "is not as bad as I initially thought."
"I was concerned with the [amendment] in the House that changed the protections for patients who signed up for the registry voluntarily and will have arrest and prosecution protections and search protections removed," she says. "I checked into it, and it's not as risky as I thought. [Police would] have to have a search warrant to search someone, and could only do so if they had reason to believe there was more marijuana than was allowed, or that they were breaking the law in some other way."
As for Gov. Gregoire, she released a statement reiterating her view that the bill will put state workers at risk of federal prosecution for implementing a medical-marijuana dispensary system that deals with a substance that's still very much illegal in the federal government's view.
"I asked the Legislature to work with me on a bill that does not subject state workers to risk of criminal liability. I am disappointed that the bill as passed does not address those concerns while also meeting the needs of medical marijuana patients.
"I will review the bill to determine any parts that can assist patients in need without putting state employees at risk. No state employee should have to break federal law in order to do their job."
This, of course, goes against the fact that no state worker has ever been charged with a federal crime for working on state-sponsored medical-marijuana dispensary oversight. But whatever.
So Sen. Kohl-Welles has made peace with what's pretty close to the best bill that could be hashed out in a divided legislature. Whether it will all be for naught now depends on Gov. Gregoire's final decision.
She'll have 20 days from the time the bill reaches her desk to decide what to do with it.