Last Thursday, Sensible Washington took to Facebook to proclaim the death of the medical–marijuana-killing bill that I wrote about last week (“Is This the End of Medical Marijuana in Washington?”, Feb. 26, 2014), upon seeing that the Health Care Committee hearing had been canceled. Unfortunately, it isn’t so cut-and-dried.
At every public hearing on 2149 and the other bills which would eviscerate Washington’s medical-marijuana law, plenty of patients and advocates have shown up to testify, pointing out the bills’ shortcomings and generally highlighting what a bad idea it is to take medicine from sick people.
So lawmakers, eager to avoid yet another dramatic public hearing, canceled the scheduled hearing on HB 2149 during a Thursday-morning executive session of the Senate Health Care Committee. They instead cynically used a procedural loophole through which they sent the bill on to Ways and Means “with no recommendation,” avoiding the public hearing entirely.
Voila! The messy requirement of taking actual public input from those impacted by bad legislation has been neatly and cynically sidestepped.
There was still a medical-marijuana-threatening hearing, though. It was on Monday, March 3, before the Ways and Means Committee—with just three hours’ notice—and the hearing was on a different piece of legislation, SB 6542, which would establish a marijuana commission appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee. Included on the commission would be “stakeholders,” including cities and counties—many of which, by the way, plan to ban all marijuana sales—and members of the Liquor Control Board, which seems singularly intent on completely dismantling medical marijuana in the state.
The Washington legislature has been oddly attitudinal this session when it comes to cannabis. Unfortunately, the medical-marijuana community—started back in 1998, when state voters approved RCW 69.51a—seems at best an afterthought and at worst an inconvenience to state policymakers.
You see, state officials have publicly admitted they’re afraid that patient collective gardens, popularly known as medical-marijuana dispensaries, will be too much competition for the highly taxed recreational-marijuana stores scheduled to open later this year as legalization measure I-502 is implemented.
What that means in their rhetoric is that the “threat of federal raids,” which has been present for the entire 16-year life of Washington’s medical-marijuana law, has suddenly become a crisis-level issue. To hear politicians and bureaucrats from Inslee on down tell it, massive federal raids are imminent unless we shut down those “unregulated” dispensaries. (The reason they’re still relatively “unregulated,” by the way, is that ex-Gov. Chris Gregoire line-item-vetoed almost all the useful parts of a bill, SB 5073, which would have regulated them.)
When Rep. Eileen Cody filed House Bill 2149 back on January 6, the medical-marijuana community reacted strongly to its elimination of dispensaries, drastic reduction of patient possession limits (from 24 ounces to just 3), establishment of a patient registry, and elimination of arrest protection. According to one Olympia insider, Cody had been willing to wait to see what came from the Senate before pushing her own legislation. But, according to this source, after the patient outcry she dug in her heels and decided to teach the “yellers and smellers” (as patients are reputedly called by some members of the legislature) a lesson.
That’s why HB 2149 is now wending its way through Olympia. But even if that bill doesn’t survive Ways and Means, another piece of bad legislation—SB 5887—stands ready to take its place. SB 5887, currently in the Senate Ways and Means, would also reduce patient possession limits, eliminate dispensaries, and put the Liquor Control Board in charge of medical marijuana.
Should both 2149 and 5887 fall by the wayside, remember that the legislature has that other measure for us: SB 6524. That bill would establish the aforementioned governor-appointed marijuana commission, which, ironically, seems almost certain to be hostile to cannabis. This is far from over.
Steve Elliott edits Toke Signals, tokesignals.com, an irreverent, independent blog of cannabis news, views, and information.