Washington legislators get first crack at pot laws

Washington legislators get first crack at pot laws

Kyle Fenton, Staff Reporter

Two Washington state senators expressed confidence in merging the state’s current laws on medical and recreational marijuana last week with their own changes, of course.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles spoke about details of her soon-to-be-filed marijuana bill, portraying it as complementary to an existing bill by Sen. Ann Rivers.

According to The Evergreen, The Seattle Times marijuana blog, State Sens. Brian Hatfield and Ann Rivers are simultaneously pushing a bill that would replace the state’s three tier tax system with a single marijuana tax paid by the consumer.

The tax would be 37 percent of selling price initially, and would scale down in future years.

In 1998, Initiative 692 was enacted, authorizing the medical use of marijuana. In 2012, the voters of Washington authorized Initiative 502, which legalized the recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years of age and older.

These two initiatives contradict one another in terms of how people may acquire marijuana in the state.

I-502 has created a tightly regulated market which is highly taxed. As of now, some medical dispensaries operating under I-692 are selling their product in an unregulated market, and dodging a steep excise tax that’s required at each sale.

This situation has left a wild-west atmosphere for marijuana entrepreneurs since recreational shops have opened, considering there are few regulations governing medical marijuana.

Rivers and Kohl-Welles proposed merging the medical and recreational marijuana systems under the Washington Liquor Control Board, renaming it the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board.

The merging of these two markets would allow medical dispensaries to continue to operate, but only sell edibles and concentrates. It would require product testing that is at least as strict as the testing state-licensed recreational marijuana goes through.

The senators also proposed changing possession and growing regulations for medical cardholders, and people 21 years of age and older.

Sen. Rivers’ proposal would allow up to six plants for medical use, and healthcare professionals may authorize an additional amount if necessary for patients, but not more than 15 plants.

Sen. Kohl-Welles’ proposal allows anyone of age to grow up to six plants, and medical patients the right to grow up to 15 plants.

As of now, the Department of Health (DOH) has nothing to do with patients regarding a database of medical marijuana patients.

Sen. Rivers’ proposal would make it mandatory for health care professionals to notify the DOH that their patients qualify for such use.

The DOH then contracts with a third party to design a database health care professionals may access in order to provide their patients with an authorization card. Authorization cards would be valid for two years for adults and one year for minors.

Sen. Kohl-Welles’ proposal has to do with a DOH waiver card. A qualifying patient may seek a DOH waiver card if he or she has been diagnosed with a terminal or debilitating medical condition, as set in statute.

The waiver is only needed for those under age 21, individuals who want to have the sales and use tax exemptions, or individuals who want to possess or grow marijuana in amounts greater than allowed for recreational users.

Sen. Kohl-Welles’ proposal could be a very progressive move for the future of marijuana culture in Washington state.