Posts tagged: medical marijuana
OLYMPIA – States that have legalized marijuana for medical uses are pushing the U.S. Justice Department for help in sorting out the conflict between federal drug laws and their own, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said he’s aware of the problems and agreed this week to work with her, as the head of the National Governor’s Association and the point person for the 16 states with medical marijuana laws.
But Holder told her a department memo on not using federal resources to pursue patients using medical marijuana is being “misinterpreted” by the states and people setting up dispensaries to sell the drug to patients. That lack of prosecution was intended only for “those that are really quite ill” she said. “It’s expanded beyond anything anticipated in the Ogden Memo.” Holder told her he fully supports federal prosecutors who are shutting down dispensaries, and they are in Eastern Washington and Montana.
Gregoire believes the federal government should reclassify marijuana so it can be used for some medicinal purposes. Right now it’s classified as illegal for all uses. But reclassification usually takes time for drug tests, and the states don’t have that luxury. “I said, ‘The states need your help, the sooner the better.”
OLYMPIA — With prosects for medical marijuana legislation dead in the Legislature, a group unhappy with what's left of the cannabis law post-veto will try to get it on the November ballot so voters can dump it.
Steve Sarich of CannaCare filed Referendum 73 with the Secretary of State's office this week, a proposal that would ask voters to put the law back to where it was before Senate Bill 5073 was passed and partially vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.
CannaCare, which operates medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, lobbied against 5073 as it bounced around the Legislature and contends Gregoire's partial veto that wiped out large sections of the bill made it worse.
Referendum supporters will have to get about 121,000 signatures by August 23 — assuming the Legislature finsihes work sometime today. (They have 90 days from final adjournment.)
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, tried to push a new medical marijuana bill through the Legislature in the final days, but on Tuesday threw in the towel and conceded it was not going to make it; she'll try again next year, she said. For an Associated Press account on the end of that legislative effort, click here.
In other medical marijuana news, Rep. Roger Goodman, a supporter of the medical marijuana legislation, sent Attorney General Rob McKenna a letter challenging him to state his position on medical marijuana, in light of the fact the AG has a well known position on another health-care topic, the federal Affordable Care Act. (McKenna's against parts of it, and joined a lawsuit seeking to block its implementation.)
OLYMPIA — There will be no more attempts this year to rewrite medical marijuana laws.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, announced this morning that she's done for now and won't try to move her latest proposal through the Legislature in what's left of the special session. For the entire statement, click to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA – The latest plan to allow Washington’s most populous counties to set up pilot programs for medical marijuana cooperatives may have limited prospects of passing this year.
The proposal would allow counties with more than 200,000 people, or the cities in them, to adopt ordinances for co-ops to grow and dispense medical marijuana. Those cities or counties could set rules for security, inspections and allowable amounts of the drug, and would report results to a special task force that would give findings to the Legislature in December 2012. Unlike some previous proposals, the state would not keep a patient registry.
It's the latest iteration of a bill that Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, has been trying to craft since Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most parts of the medical marijuana bill that passed during the regular session of the Legislature.
She said she's being urged by local officials in Seattle, Tacoma and King County to give them something to address the growth in medical marijuana dispensaries.
“They're left in a very difficult position, they can't regulate collective gardens,” she said. “I thought it was worth it to give it one more try.”
The latest version of SB 5955 received a hearing in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Friday but may not have enough support to be reported out of committee. If it does, it may not have the required “four-corners agreement” from both parties' leaders in both chambers, necessary to get a vote in the special session dedicated primarily to budgets, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said.
Gregoire hasn't seen it yet, so she hasn't taken a stand, either, Kohl-Wells said.
Some of the interesting wrinkles in this latest version:
* Patient co-operatives would have to be non-profits.
* Patients can only be a member of one co-operative or collective garden at a time.
* Cooperatives couldn't advertise “in any manner that promotes or tends to promote the use or abuse of cannabis. This includes displaying pictures of cannabis.”
* No franchises.
* It sets up a Joint Legislative Task Force on Medical Use of Cannabis. (Go ahead. Insert the joke of your choice between “Joint” and “Legislative”.)
Ezra Eickmeyer, of the Washington Cannabis Association, said getting rid of the registry is a good step, limiting access to co-oops and dispensaries to only the most populous counties, not so good.
“Someone with four months to live with cancer isn't going to start planting their own cannabis,” Eickmeyer said.
Biggest problem for the bill may be that it's a work in progress with only five days left in the special session
OLYMPIA – With a Senate panel considering a new rewrite of the state’s medical marijuana laws, Gov. Chris Gregoire said Wednesday she’ll push to get the federal government to rewrite its laws and make the drug legal to treat some conditions.
The newest attempt to regulate some aspects of medical marijuana had few supporters for its debut in the Senate Ways and Means Committee Wednesday morning. Its sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, conceded SB 5955 was drafted in a hurry and needed revision.
Steve Sarich of CannaCare, which operates medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries, said if the goal was to provide clarity, allowing each city and county to set limits on the drug won’t do that: “You guys are creating chaos if you pass this measure.”..
To read the rest of this story, or to comment, click here to go inside the blog.
OLYMPIA — The sponsor of a new medical marijuana proposal conceded Wednesday it was put together quickly after a disappointing partial veto of a previous measure, and critics ranging from patients to dispensaries to law enforcement criticized it on most points.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, said Gov. Chris Gregoire's veto of most sections of her previous bill left the state in a bad way: “The law is now worse than what it started out to be.”
So she crafted a new bill, SB 5955, which she conceded was imperfect and done quickly. It had little support at this morning's hearing in front of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
Many witnesses agreed with the “imperfect” assessment.
Jim Cooper of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention, said the bill would encourage more teens to try pot.
Valtino Hicks, a medical marijuana patient from Yakima who recently was found innocent in a trial over his use of the drug, said it would do nothing to curb overzealous law enforcement. (Editor's note: An early version of this story misspelled Hicks' name.)
Steve Sarich of CannaCare, which operates marijuana clinics and dispensaries, said it would lead to a hodge podge of rules across the state by allowing cities and counties to decide how many medical marijuana facilities, if any, would be allowed locally.
Don Pierce of the Washington Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said the state should require medical marijuana to be dispensed the way other drugs are, through pharmacies. To do that, it should change its classification from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug.
But that's not really practical, said Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, a pharmacist, only the federal government can make that change.
That might not prevent the state from trying, however, Sen. Karen Keiser said a bill was introduced this morning that would change marijuana place on the drug schedule in Washington.
The committee took no action on the bill.
OLYMPIA — Supporters of better laws defining medical marijuana procedures are “rolling another one”.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, introduced a bill today that she believes will overcome Gov. Chris Gregoire's concerns about the previous bill, which was mostly vetoed late last month.
The new bill, SB 5955, proposes a voluntary registry that would shield medical marijuana patients from arrest and set up a system of non-profit cooperatives where they could buy their supplies. It would also allow local governments to control where dispensaries can be located.
But it does not set up a system that has the state Department of Agriculture licensing growing and processing operations and the Department of Health licensing dispensaries. The last bill proposed that, and set off a debate over whether federal agents could arrest state workers involved in medical marijuana tasks could be arrested under federal drug laws.
The bill gets a hearing at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
OLYMPIA — Federal prosecutors may mean what they say about charging state employees who oversee medical marijuana operations, a state lawyer told legislators looking for direction on finding a law that can navigate the controversy.
Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even told legislators he can't predict the risk of federal prosecution to state employees after U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby and Jenny Durkan raised concerns about sections of a medical marijuana law. Federal drug laws preempt state laws in most cases, he said, so it's not possible to assume that a bill directing state workers to license and regulate the growing and sale of medical marijuana would be immune from prosecution if that bill became law.
A group of 14 House members asked last week for Attorney General Rob McKenna's opinion about the conflict between state and federal drug laws after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed much of the medical marijuana bill. The response they got today was “a non-response,” said Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, the drafter of the letter.
“I want to know what the attorney general's opinion is to providing safe acess to patients. His response is an effort to evade the issue,” Goodman said.
Even wrote that the state attorney general's office doesn't normally interpret federal law, but federal prosecutors “have already stated the position of the United States with respect to this issue.”
Ormsby and Durking did that in April, in a letter to Gregoire that the governor used as a reason for vetoing much of the medical marijuana bill that passed the Legislature with bipartisan support.
Even said he couldn't predict whether there would be prosecutions: “This office has no control over the (federal Controlled Substance Act) and cannot meaningfully predict what the United States may or may not do in that respect.”
Goodman said Monday he believes prosecutions are unlikely and that the Justice Department would seek a court order barring enforcement of a state law regulating medical marijuana. But that law isn't likely to emerge any time soon.
“We're not going to be able to override the governor's veto,” Goodman said, and crafting a new bill on growing operations and dispensaries is unlikely in the special session which will be half over on Tuesday. Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, has a proposal that would help clarify rules for patients using cooperatives, he said, but currently lacks agreement from the leaders of both parties in both chambers to introduce it.
OLYMPIA — A few days after their party's governor vetoed most of the medical marijuana bill last week, House Democrats are asking a likely Republican gubernatorial candidate for a little help on crafting a new version.
Fifteen Democratic representatives, including Spokane's Andy Billig, signed a letter to Attorney General Rob McKenna for help redrafting a bill that would do some of the things that Gov. Chris Gregoire chopped out of the medical marijuana bill with her veto pen.
“We need your guidance as the state’s chief law enforcement officer, given the current heightened uncertainty about the legitimacy of Washington’s medical cannabis program,” the group wrote, adding that the veto has thrown the state's program “into a crisis.”
In the signing some, vetoing most session last week, Gregoire said she hadn't consulted with McKenna about the issue after receiving warnings from federal prosecutors that state employees involved in the regulation of medical marijuana, as required by the bill, could face prosecution under federal drug laws that still make the drug illegal for any use.
Update 1: A spokeswoman for McKenna said they have not yet received the letter (they know about it, having read versions of it on-line) and when the request comes in it will be referred to the head of the opinions office. How long it might take to craft an opinion is unclear, but the office will try to expedite an opinion because legislators are looking at a deadline with the special session, Janelle Guthrie said.
But an AG opinion is supposed to “hold great weight”, so the office will have to study the issue carefully, Guthrie said.
Update 2: At a press conference Tuesday, Gregoire said she didn't ask McKenna for an opinion because the issue involves federal law, not state law. “It's fine they're asking for an opinion, but it's not relevant.”
If state employees did face federal prosecution, McKenna's office would have to defend them, she added.
So to review, House Democrats are asking the Republican state attorney general to help them get around the warnings from federal prosecutors appointed by a Democratic president and a veto by a Democratic governor. This is also the same Republican state attorney general whom legislative Democrats have vocally dissed for his legal opinion on another matter of federal/state relationships regarding health care.
Although to be fair, in challenging federal health care reform, McKenna is on the side arguing state laws overrule federal mandates, which is the side House Democrats want him to take in this issue.
OLYMPIA — State workers will not be licensing medical marijuana growers or dispensaries, and patients will not be able to sign onto a registry that could save them from arrest.
Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a bill this afternoon that would have established a state structure for the production and sale of medical marijuana, saying she feared state involved in the system would face federal prosecution….
(To read the full report, click here to go inside the blog.)
OLYMPIA — The state employees union joined the fray over the medical marijuana bill, urging Gov. Chris Gregoire in a letter today to veto it.
The letter from Greg Devereaux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said the law would put them in a “precarious position of enforcing a state law which could potentially lead to their prosecution under federal law.”
That missive comes on the heels of Thursday's letter from University of Washington Law Professor Hugh Spitzer, one of the state's top constitutional law experts, that contends those types of prosecutions are highly unlikely, despite a letter from federal prosecutors to Gregoire. Spitzer accused U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokanke and Jenny Durkan of Seattle of “federal bullying” and argued such prosecutions haven't occured over other conflicts between federal and state laws for decades — maybe not since the Civil War.
Gregoire is scheduled to take action on the bill at 2:30 p.m., and said earlier in the week she'd like to salvage the state registry for medical marijuana patients if she can find a way to separate that from provisions that call for state agencies to license growing, processing and dispensary operations.
Just can the whole thing, Devereaux said in the letter.
If that happens, the Legislature could take up the issue again in the special session if there's an agreement by the leaders of both parties in both chambers and Gregoire. That kind of OK would be needed because a medical marijuana isn't directly connected to the budget, which is supposed to be the focus of the special session.
OLYMPIA — Federal agents are unlikely to arrest state workers for regulating medical marijuana, despite warnings from two federal prosecutors, a constitutional law expert told Gov. Chris Gregoire Thursday.
Hugh Spitzer, a University of Washington law professor and one of the state's top constitutional scholars, said a warning to the state from U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby of Spokane and Jenny Durkan of Seattle over the proposed medical marijuana law amounts to “inappopriate federal 'bulllying' of our state in connection with a controversial policy issue where this Washington is undertaking an approach that is not preferred by that Washington.”
Gregoire said Wednesday she may veto the bill, which passed the Legislature late last week because of the warning from Ormsby and Durkan that state employees involved in overseeing or licensing growers, processors or dispensaries could face prosectution.
“I won’t intentionally put state employees at risk,” she said Wednesday. “I don't even know if I can implement the law.” (Read the rest of that post here.)
But Spitzer argues the state needn't worry. State workers haven't been prosecuted for carrying out a law that conflicts with federal law since the Civil War, he said. Even during the Civil Rights struggles, when state and local offiicals were enforcing local laws that conflicted with federal laws, they weren't prosecuted.
It is possible the conflict could end up in federal court, and a federal judge could issue a cease and desist order against the state statutes. In that case, the state would readily comply, Spitzer said.
“Washington's governor should not stand in for the federal government to frustrate the will of Washington's voters and a legislative policy decision favoring the type of regulatory control encompassed by (the bill),” Spitzer said. “I respectfully urge you to sign E2SSB 5073.”
OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire threatened Wednesday to veto most, and possibly all, of a bill that would set up state oversight of medical marijuana operations.
The bill received final approval from the Senate last week, but federal prosecutors in Spokane and Seattle had earlier warned that state workers involved in overseeing or licensing medical marijuana growers, processors or dispensaries could face federal charges.
“I won’t intentionally put state employees at risk,” she said Wednesday. “I don't even know if I can implement the law.”
Gregoire said she does support the bill’s call for a registry of medical marijuana patients, but it may be too intermixed with other provisions of the proposed law. The question now is what, if anything, can be saved in the bill.
“I'd love to save the registry. I believe in the initiative. I believe we have a problem we need to correct,” she said.
Vetoing the bill could mean solving that problem would wait until next year. The Legislature began a 30-day special session this week, but it's supposed to be devoted to state budgets and any bills needed to implement them.
The medical marijuana law might not fit that description. Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said it might be possible to get the four corners — Democratic and Republican leaders of the House and the Senate — to agree to consider a revised version of the law because the current bill had bipartisan support.
“I do believe this dispensary issue is a real problem we need to get a handle on. We need some kind of clear description of what is a legal dispensary,” Brown said.
OLYMPIA — The Senate gave final passage this morning to a bill that attempts to regulate medical marijuana production and sales, setting up a possible showdown with the governor, who opposes provisions for state employees regulating different aspects of the system.
On a 27-21 vote, with members of both parties coming down hard on both sides, the Senate approved amendments to the system adopted by the House earlier this month. That agreement, known as concurrence, sends Senate Bill 5073 to Gregoire.
“This is an important step forward compared to the status quo,” Sen. Lisa Brown, D- Spokane said. The current system, set up by a 1998 initiative that allows medical marijuana but sets up no system for patients to obtain it, is unfair to patients, neighborhoods where dispensaries are springing up and legitimate businesses that could provide the product, she said.
The rules in the bill, such as one that allows a patient to grow 15 plants, and three patients to form a co-op and grow 45, are too lax, argued Sen. Jeff Baxter, R-Spokane Valley. “It is a gateway drug,” he said.
SB 5073 requires the state Department of Agriculture to license control the production and processing of medical marijuana, and the Department of Health to license dispensaries. A letter from U.S. attorneys in Seattle and Spokane warned Gregoire that federal law still lists marijuana as an illegal drug, and state employees could be arrested for any activities that involved marijuana.
Because of that, Gregoire has said she would not sign a bill that puts state employees at risk, even though she believes the state's medical marijuana law needs clarity. (For more on the controversy over the U.S. attorneys letter to Gregoire, click here.)
Update: An hour after the bill passed, Gregoire indicated she would veto at least part of it: “I asked the Legislature to work with me on a bill that does not subject state workers to risk of criminal liability. I am disappointed that the bill as passed does not address those concerns while also meeting the needs of medical marijuana patients,” she said in a prepared statement. “I will review the bill to determine any parts that can assist patients in need without putting state employees at risk.”
Today's action by the Senate was no compromise. It approved the same language that passed the House before U.S. Attorneys Mike Ormsby and Jenny Durkan responded to a request for guidance from Gregoire.
The warnings from Ormsby and Durkan were dimissed by some supporters of the bill. “You could look at this as a state's right,” Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland said. “Tell D.C. to butt out.”
Opponents said the group that lobbies for local police and sheriffs oppose the bill, too.
But far more time was spent debating a basic conflict over medical marijuana that predates the voters' approval of an initiative in 1998. Supporters said it's a humane product for cancer patients and some other medical conditions, and people who want to use it should have a system of legal access to a reliable product. “Are they supposed to just find a dealer on the streets?” Rep. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said. With the bill “patients weill be certain that the product they're using is safe.”
Opponents said it's a precursor to other drugs and a stepping stone to complete legalization of marijuana. Some agreed marijuana may be appropriate for a small, and possibly shrinking, number of patients as other treatments become available. But doctors' recomendations are too easy to come by, they said, and overall use becomes more prevalent and acceptable because of the growth of medical marijuana.
“You are voting for something that is on the cusp of legalizing marijuana for everyone,” Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, said.
Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, said the current system of unregulated medical marijuana is the bigger problem, because it's too hard to tell what's legal and what's illegal. “This is a vote between maintaining the status quo and trying to establish a bright-line, enforceable framework…Law enforcement is not cracking down on the dispensaries. Now is the time when illegal users are hiding behind the law.”
Here's how Spokane-area senators voted on final passage of SB 5073: Republican Mike Baumgartner and Democrat Lisa Brown voted yes; Republicans Jeff Baxter, Bob Morton and Mark Schoesler voted no.
OLYMPIA — The Legislature is moving toward its temporary adjournment today, trying to pass as many bills as possible on which both chambers agree.
And the House may have a bit of fireworks over a bill on which there isn't universal agreement, SB 5566, which would allow for voluntary settlements on workers compensation claims, a process known as compromise and release. The bill has passed the Senate and has Gov. Chris Gregoire's support, but House Democratic leadership does not support the system and has not allowed a vote on it. House Republicans and some moderate Democrats may try to push it to the floor this afternoon.
Among bills on the Senate's plate is the latest version of the medical marijuana bill which passed the House in an amended version earlier this month.
In other back-and-forth action, the House refused to agree to Senate amendments to HB 1267, a bill on domestic partner parent laws and surrogacy, and asked for a conference committee. The Senate voted this morning to strip out the provisions on surrogacy, and send it back to the House on a 27-21 vote.
“I have a problem with the Legislature changing the meaning of mother and father,” said Sen. Don Benton, R-Vancouver, who voted no.
That wasn't what the bill did, replied Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley. “The law needs to recognize we have non-traditional families.”
It could be. The Legislature is running out of time and a compromise that can overcome the warnings of federal prosecutors may be hard to find. Read more about it in this story that first appeared in Sunday's print edition.
OLYMPIA — A bill to set up rules for the growing, processing and sale of medical marijuana is moving to the House floor.
It has about 20 amendments, so this could be a long, strange trip to the vote. More to come.
OLYMPIA — The House Health Care Committee voted 6-5 this morning to send a new version of the medical marijuana bill to the floor.
The now heavily amended bill, SB 5073, would allow the state Health Department to decide how many medical marijuana dispensaries to be located in each county, and would set up a lottery for licenses for that number, so there's no guarantee the current dispensaries could stay in business after July 2012 when the new law takes effect.
It also provides additional protection from arrest for persons who receive a letter from their doctor that marijuana would be the right treatment for their condition. A patient can be on a voluntary state registry, which would protect him or her from both arrest and prosecution for possession of 24 ounces or less of marijuana, or have the doctor's letter, which would protect from arrest, but could still result in prosecution where the medical marijuana defense could be argued.
The bill also forbids medical practices that are “solely” for recommending marijuana. That's a small but potentially significant change from the previous language, which banned practices “primarily” around recommending marijuana.
The requirement that dispensaries be nonprofit operations is also gone, and a collective marijuana operation can serve 10 people, rather than three under the old proposal. The Department of Agriculture would still be in charge of licensing marijuana growing and processing operations.
Health Committee Chairwoman Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, said she thought the new version had enough support to pass the House, predicting it would lose a few Democratic votes but pick up a few Republican votes. the original Senate bill had bipartisan sponsorship.
The Health Care Committee had a busy morning in executive session, also sending to the floor a revised version of a bill to establish a health benefit exchange — a system that would allow small businesses and individuals to shop for health insurance from different companies and take advantage of potential discounts for larger numbers that some bigger employers receive. The exchanges are called for in the federal health care reform law that passed one year ago today.
An amended version of SB 5445, which Republicans said would slow the process down while federal courts decide if the Affordable Care Act is constitutional and Congress decides how to pay for it, passed 9-2.
OLYMPIA – Legislators are spending some of their time on pot this week. Not smoking it, of course, but discussing it as both a potential revenue source, through outright legalization, and an administrative problem for the medical marijuana voters approved in 1998.
A day before the state's revenue forecast, supporters of a bill to legalize cannabis, a term they prefer over marijuana, made a push to revive a bill that they claim would be worth $440 million to the state budget in a two-year cycle.
HB 1550 already had one hearing last month in the House Public Safety Committee, where it attracted the usual list of supporters who noted some of the Founding Fathers grew hemp, and detractors who warned of growing usage by teens and drivers should marijuana become legal. That committee has yet to vote the bill up or down, but it was granted a special “work session” Wednesday in House Ways and Means, the budget-writing committee, to discuss the money the state might make from legalizing, taxing and selling marijuana in state liquor stores.
“We’re trying to help the Legislature understand the revenue prospects for the bill,” said Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, the bill’s sponsor. . .
OLYMPIA — The state could make about $50 million over the next 10 years by setting up a system of licensing and registering medical marijuana users and dispensers, a state study said Thursday.
The state Office of Financial Management, which determines the fiscal impact for bills filed in the Legislature, came to that conclusion after studying House Bill 1100, whose co-sponsors include state Rep. Andy Billig, D-Spokane.
State voters legalized marijuana for medical use about 10 years ago, but problems persist for those who have a doctor's recommendation to use it. They have trouble buying it, and trouble avoiding prosecution, particularly since the federal government still considers marijuana a dangerous drug.
HB 1100 would set up license, registration and usage fees for qualifying patients, and a separate medical marijuana production and processing license.
Those systems would start out raising about $3 million for the state in 2013, and generate about $6.2 million by 2017 and each subsequent year, OFM estimates.