OLYMPIA — Working with uncharacteristic speed, both chambers cleared the way for a special vote to change in the state's marijuana, and the House gave the bill near-unanimous approval.
The problem with the state's legal definition of marijuana was discovered in the last week, as the state crime laboratory reported its test equipment doesn't differentiate between two different chemicals that can be present in the plant. Only one, delta-9 tetrahydracannibanol, is mentioned in the law voters approved last year that allows recreational use of marijuana by adults, and the percentage of that chemical present in any material determines whether it is marijuana.
That definition in Initiative 502 also governs the legal growing, processing and selling of marijuana, which is to be regulated by the state. But the equipment the lab uses turns another a non-psychoactive precursor chemical, tetrahydracannibanol acid which is also present in the plant into delta-9 THC, and THC-A isn't mentioned in the law. A lab analyst testifying in a drug growing or trafficking case can't say how much of the delta-9 THC in their findings was the legal THC-A when the substance was seized.
“They can no longer legally test the substance,” said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, the chairman of the House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee, which handles the legal issues surrounding the state's changing marijuana laws.
The solution was relatively easy: Change the law to so that any amount of delta-9 THC and THC-A above the set limit makes the substance marijuana. Getting there was not so easy, because the problem was reported to the Legislature in its last week of regular session, when normal deadlines for introducing new bills and voting on them had long passed.
A bill introduced Wednesday was passed by Hurst's committee Thursday and sent to the House, which voted to let both chambers suspend the normal rules and vote on the billl Friday morning. The Senate agreed, which allowed the bill to get a vote in the House Friday afternoon. Because it changes a new initiative, it needed at least a two-thirds majority to approve it; it got that easily, passing 95-1.
“There's no way we can wait 11 months to fix this,” Hurst said after the vote. The Senate is expected to take up the bill over the weekend before the regular session closes.