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Cannabis Wars Part 3: The Proposals

The Framework:

Discussions with the players, staff and legislators reveal a larger common core of remedies for Washington’s conflicting, inharmonious cannabis laws than one would think. The specifics will be hammered out in one or more pieces of legislation in the 2015 session. At least that is the plan. This has also been the plan for the last two years, and it failed.

There are two bills drafted and at least one concept paper as we head into a series of fall, post election committee assembly sessions. And with leadership battles alive and well in the State Senate, there are as moving many pieces on the cannabis front as in 20th century Swiss watch.

Generally, as we have reported here, Washington State policy makers need to get serious about refining and possibly combing the Medical Marijuana (MMJ) with the recreational cannabis use (502) law. Here is what we have heard over the summer and more focused this fall:

-What has to be changed to ensure the mandates of the Federal Department of Justice? Strict enforcement of minor prohibitions, strict product tracking, and adequate enforcement platforms for both MMJ and 502
-What has to be changed to ensure the revenues generated by 502 production, processing and sales? This questions launches the entire review of the “leakage” of MMJ product to non-medical citizens.
-What needs to be changed to address MMJ authorizations? Healthcare providers assurance, limited authorization time frames, and registries.
-How can clean and pure product be required in the MMJ stream as it is in the 502 stream? Product quality assurance is a “go home” issue for both sides.
-How does the legislature address the inequity of MMJ law allowing self-grown product and the 502 law does not?
-And the revenue? If MMJ is medicine should it be taxed like medicine? If it’s medicine does the legislature define it so it can be paid for with health insurance and prescription plans? Can it, considering federal law?

The Bills:

Both Senator Ann Rivers and Kohl-Welles have bills. They have worked the bills very diligently this fall. The bills represent two different but commonly focused approaches.

Unless these proposals are merged somewhere in the process, legislators will deal separately with one bill that is comprehensive, and another that is “eloquent and simple”, to use the words of the drafting sponsor.

The comprehensive bill addresses all the issues above and then some. The big bill, as we call it, will make provisions for a safe and clean product for both streams, it will legitimize MMJ authorizations (prescriptions) and those who issue them. The big bill respects cannabis as medicine and on its face works to respect and support the patient community. In early drafts it also provides for monitored self-grown MMJ product, but not 502. It “honors both…” MMJ and 502 users in that its goal is to provide “access of the highest quality…”(of product for all citizens). The drafter claims that there is an “emerging” awareness among legislators that cannabis is a medicine, and that proper production and labeling will benefit both MMJ patients and 502 customers. The bill will not punish prohibition cities or counties, and intends to allow them access to cannabis sales generated revenue even if they don’t allow the sales. Some add that this memorializing inequity will be a steep hill for the bill, as will provisions and conditions of self grow.

The more surgical bill, pretty much stays on the MMJ side of the street and will attempt to address a “clean up” of the MMJ law. For this reason alone, the bills probably will be part of a duel path until leadership and logic demands a hybrid.

To the credit of the drafter, this proposed draft has been partially vetted by and/or discussed with patient advocacy groups, businesses, hemp industry representatives, healthcare provider community, law enforcement and Association of Washington Cities. The law will not address a patient registry. The proposed act will allow up to six plants to be grown by both MMJ and 502 users.

Both Senator Rivers and Senator Kohl-Wells claim they are planning to meet with each other to examine common goals. It will be a critical first step for cannabis for the 2015 session.

The Concepts:

In addition to the two draft bills and their support network, there also are at least two other groups looking for answers to functional cannabis laws. These groups, one almost entirely patient based and the other, MMJ producers who have learned how to make money in 502 production, will monitor the formal bill drafting, and pile on as they see their interests advanced or hampered. It has been this late session, “piling-on” that has contributed to the death of cannabis law rewrite in the past two attempts.

The Regulatory Side:

The two drafts and pieces of the concept work all bring new and expanded roles for state agencies. Which, we know always causes calls for more funding to do more. The Department of Health, Agriculture, and Washington Liquor Control Board will be on the menu in 2015. So will the creation of a new Washington Cannabis Commission. The latter is still merely one of the concepts being shopped to law makers, the role is vague and the need unsubstantiated as of yet. But if the comprehensive changes to Washington cannabis laws go forward, and the existing agencies do not mold well in the new regulatory platform there may be a need for an umbrella regulatory system. Time will tell.

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