The state is doubling down on plans to reform its policies on pot. A new bill that would overhaul the medical side of things received its first committee hearing yesterday, while I-502, the initiative that would legalize possession of up to an ounce of grass for recreational use, seems assured a spot on the ballot.
For state lawmakers, the appeal of Kohl-Welles' latest proposal is that it would let cities and counties decide for themselves how to regulate dispensaries. It would also set up a "secure confidential voluntary registration system" to keep track of patients, growers, and dispensaries ("non-profit patient co-operatives," or NPCs, in legalese). Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it would require that police and prosecutors have "proof of actual impairment" in order to convict a medical marijuana patient of DUI.
That last bit is critical considering the amount of opposition the clause about DUIs in I-502 has generated. The ballot initiative from the New Approach Washington group would make it legal for anyone over 21 to buy up to an ounce of dried bud, and put the state in charge of taxing, licensing and regulating reefer by creating a network of state-licensed growers, processors and stores. But a portion of the plan that sets the legal standard for driving while high at a mere 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood has led many in the state's medical marijuana community to disavow the initiative for fear that it will lead to increased prosecution of medical users.
Despite the infighting, New Approach has attracted several high-profile advocates, and gathered more than 355,000 signatures in support of their plan, far more than the 100,000 required by state law. David Ammons, spokesman for the Washington Secretary of State, says the measure was sent to the state House and Senate on a provisional basis on Tuesday while his office finishes checking the authenticity of the signatures.
If SB 6265 is approved by the legislature and the governor, it would not preclude the ballot initiative from going forward, and vice versa. In fact, if both measures are enacted, the likely result would be more options for medical pot users.
"It's my understanding," says Alison Dempsey-Hall, spokeswoman for Kohl-Welles, "that if both the initiative and bill became law, qualified patients could choose whether they would obtain cannabis under the medical cannabis bill or under I-502."
As for the discrepancies between the two pot proposals, Ammons says it will ultimately be up to the legislature to get things squared away if both become law.
"An initiative can override or overrun something that has passed the legislature just a few months prior," Ammons says. "If it's in conflict, that's where you need a court to rule on it, or you need the legislature to harmonize the two and decide what to keep."
But that's counting chickens before they hatch. Kohl-Welles bill just had its first public hearing yesterday (despite blizzard conditions in the state capital), and voters won't get the chance to make the call on I-502 until November.