Pubdate: Sat, 21 May 2011
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2011 Bellingham Herald
Author: Jordan Schrader


New Bill: Supporters dislike stipulation making cities, counties opt in

The Legislature's latest stab at regulating medical-marijuana sellers 
would let them set up shop in King, Pierce, Thurston, Kitsap and five 
other counties if the counties or their cities so choose - but the 
effort is hanging by a thread.

Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the Seattle Democrat who has been medical 
marijuana's champion in the state Senate, was trying Friday to 
convince enough members of the Senate Ways and Means Committee to 
sign her legislation and advance it. She was one vote short.

"There's support for the policies, it's just gotten caught up in the 
political right now," she said.

But opposition has been building for a while now in the Senate, even 
as Kohl-Welles has scaled back her goals in an attempt to address opposition.

The latest proposal to be discarded: a state registry of patients 
whose members would gain special protections from arrest. Gov. Chris 
Gregoire and law enforcement supported it, but the medical marijuana 
industry has been wary of patients' names going on a list that could 
be accessed by police. Kohl-Welles is no longer pursuing it.

Gregoire vetoed Kohl-Welles' previous legislation last month, leaving 
the legal landscape even more confusing for medical marijuana 
outlets. Tacoma is among the cities waiting for guidance and sent a 
letter of support for the latest iteration of the bill.

Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt, a onetime supporter, says 
lawmakers should stick to the budget and other key matters in the 
30-day special session that ends Wednesday. Kohl-Welles said most 
other Republicans on the panel appear to now agree with Hewitt.

There is also plenty of opposition from Democrats, including Sens. 
Jim Kastama of Puyallup and Steve Conway of Tacoma. Lawmakers 
received a letter from Pierce County Sheriff Paul Pastor earlier this 
month outlining his opposition.

Just look at the ads in newspapers, Pastor said Friday. The 
suggestive ads imply the marijuana they're authorizing for or selling 
to patients is really intended for recreational use, he said.

"They look a whole lot different from advertisements for most 
medicine," he said.

He said ideally the drug should be available to patients as other 
medicines are. But federal drug laws don't allow marijuana to be 
prescribed. Gregoire has vowed to lobby for a change.

In the latest version of the bill, which emerged Friday, dispensaries 
- - which would be known as cooperatives and would be required to 
register as nonprofits - could locate only in cities or counties that 
authorized them, and only in larger counties with a population of 
more than 200,000.

The cooperatives would be legal under a "pilot project" that runs 
only through 2014. Cities and counties would still have the choice of 
whether to opt in, an idea dispensaries oppose. "It's completely 
elective - nothing mandatory for any local jurisdiction," Kohl-Welles said.

Currently, cooperatives fall in a disputed area of the law that is 
interpreted differently from city to city.

The remnants of the previous bill that survived Gregoire's veto pen 
eliminated one justification dispensaries have cited for their 
existence, but the industry thinks it created new legal 
justifications and plans to fight city by city for the right to 
operate if nothing changes.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart