Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
Perhaps somewhat lost in the euphoria over the passage of I-502 is the fact our state's medical marijuana law is still all kinds of fucked up. It's a predicament Seattle's Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is attempting to rectify through new legislation designed to provide arrest protection for valid medical marijuana patients and clean up the mess made by former Governor Christine Gregoire's veto pen.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles
The bill would also direct the state's Liquor Control Board to study the feasibility and provide recommendations for the issuance of official medical marijuana authorization cards - to be printed on some sort of tamper proof material. This is where some medical marijuana patients and activists start to balk. Kohl-Welles is quick to stress that no official registry would be created through the issuance of these cards.
While Kohl-Welles admits that involving the Liquor Control Board in what is ostensibly a medical issue is a strange fit, as opposed to, say, the state Health Department, she says - given the LCB's new roll under I-502 and the fact the agency has the ability to do the dirty work without a fiscal note - the pairing is correct. Kohl-Welles says she's been told that having the Department of Health undertake the effort would have been significantly more costly.
"I understand the concerns," says Kohl-Welles of the involvement of the Liquor Control Board in her bill, while maintaining that it's the only option that makes sense at this point. She says, generally speaking, the feedback she's received on the proposal has been positive.
However, despite the Senator's reassurance, some medical marijuana patients remain skeptical that the bill is a covert attempt to create a registry, something medical marijuana patients in our state have long fought. Washington is currently the only state with legal medical marijuana without a registry, and patients fear such a state-kept record could fall into the hands of the weed-hating feds or criminals. Testifying in opposition of the bill at a hearing of the Health Care Committee on Monday were the likes of John Worthington and Steve Sarich of Cannacare, and Brian Stone of the Cannabis Defense Coalition.
Why is any of this important, one might wonder, in a world where any Washington adult can now legally posses up to an ounce of weed, and - at least in theory - will soon be able to buy it in a state-licensed store? Kohl-Welles says protecting patients' rights under the current medical marijuana law is important, as medical pot patients - some of whom are very ill - are allowed to grow their own weed and possess far more of it than your average citizen.
On the technical side of the bill, if passed, SB 5528 would clean up what Kohl-Welles calls "redundancies" and "incorrect language" remaining in the state's current medical marijuana law. The bulk of these issues were created when former Governor Gregoire vetoed sections of 2011 medical marijuana legislation that (among other things) would have provided arrest protection for patients who enrolled in a voluntary registry.
Technicalities aside, the Senator says the biggest benefit for medical marijuana patients in her latest weed-related bill would be the institution of arrest protection -- this time without a registry.
Whether people believe it or not.
"The intent of [SB 5528]," says Kohl-Welles," is to make sure patients can more readily access cannabis for medical purposes."