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Medical Pot Bill Now Will Test Veto Threat

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Medical pot bill now will test veto threat


The state Senate passed a bill on to Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday to license medical marijuana dispensaries, despite threats from the governor that she’ll veto the measure.


KATIE SCHMIDT; Staff writer


Published: 04/21/11 8:31 pm


http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/04/21/1635778/medical-pot-bill-now-will-test.html - user_comments8 Comments


The state Senate passed a bill on to Gov. Chris Gregoire on Thursday to license medical marijuana dispensaries, despite threats from the governor that she’ll veto the measure.


In a 27-21 vote that divided both Democrats and Republicans, senators approved House amendments to Senate Bill 5073, forcing the governor to decide what to do with the controversial proposal.


Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill’s primary sponsor said the proposal was a well thought-out approach to a black-market problem in Washington.


“Patients need this, families of patients need this, communities need this, public safety mandates this,” said Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, during floor debate on the bill Thursday.


She said the Senate had considered meeting with the governor and representatives from the House to try to reach an agreement that the governor would approve, but with the regular session ending Sunday, legislators ran out of time to make that happen.


The version of the bill that moved on to the governor would license medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, limit the number of them that can exist per county, and provide a voluntary registry and some arrest protection for patients.


It’s meant to clear up what some lawmakers and local officials call a gray area in the voter-approved measure that allowed medical marijuana in Washington but left it unclear how patients can get the drug.


The existing law allows patients to grow their own medical marijuana or designate someone else to do it for them, but it prohibits providers from giving out the drug to more than one patient, leading some cities to try to shut down dispensaries because they sell the product to multiple people.


If patients aren’t able to grow marijuana for themselves, though, or find someone to do it for them, they have to find a place to buy it from, local officials and medical pot advocates have pointed out, making dispensaries a fact of life around the state.


Now Gregoire will have to decide whether to veto the bill, veto parts of the bill or approve it.


She first voiced concern about the measure last week after receiving a letter from U.S. attorneys saying the federal government could prosecute people who participate in and license a state-authorized dispensary system. That letter seemed at odds with a Justice Department memo saying federal prosecutors will not go after patients who use marijuana in compliance with state law.


“I will review the bill to determine any parts that can assist patients in need without putting state employees at risk,” said Gregoire in a statement about the proposal. “No state employee should have to break federal law in order to do their job.”


Tacoma lobbyist Randy Lewis said the city planned to spend the next few days trying to persuade Gregoire to support the measure because, he said, “it’s a whole lot better than having nothing at all.”


The Tacoma City Council sent out cease and desist orders to medical marijuana dispensaries in the city starting in October, but it decided to suspend them while the Legislature worked on new marijuana regulations.


If the governor vetoes SB 5073, Lewis said the council would probably move forward on those orders, though it wouldn’t be able to eliminate a black market for medical marijuana in Tacoma.


“We’ll just pretend it’s not happening,” Lewis said.


Gregoire’s reaction to the bill angered some of its supporters who said they would have liked to hear about her opposition to the proposal earlier in the legislative process.


“The frustrating thing is she was not telegraphing any problems with this bill all the way through session,” said Philip Dawdy, a spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association.


Kohl-Welles said she doubted that federal attorneys would actually prosecute any state workers for carrying out SB 5073 if it becomes law.


Seven other states and Washington, D.C., all authorize dispensaries in some form, Kohl-Welles said, and the Justice Department hasn’t prosecuted people for carrying out those laws.


Some Democrats and Republicans who opposed the measure on the Senate floor argued that the proposal would contribute to drug abuse by people who aren’t really sick and clash with federal law.


“This is unfortunately not about medical marijuana anymore; this has been converted to a bill that is on the brink of legalization of marijuana for anybody and everybody,” said Sen. Mike Carrell, a Lakewood Republican who voted against the bill.


The proposal picked up support from some Republicans, though, including Sen. Jerome Delvin of Richland, a co-sponsor of the measure. He said Washington should assert its rights on the issue and passing the bill would make marijuana use easier for law enforcement to handle.


Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826 katie.schmidt@thenewstribune.com



Read more: http://www.thenewstribune.com/2011/04/21/1635778/medical-pot-bill-now-will-test.html#ixzz1KEsx9JnA




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