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New bill targets medical pot

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 change 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 Wednesday debut in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. Its sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Wells, D-Seattle, conceded it 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.”

Don Pierce, of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said his organization supports the bill’s plans for a voluntary registry that would shield medical marijuana patients from arrest but remains opposed to marijuana dispensaries.

Valtino Hicks, a Yakima patient who was acquitted of drug distribution charges, said the bill would do nothing to rein in police intent on prosecuting dispensaries. “We already have a problem with overzealous cops.”

Bill Will, of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association, argued a provision to ban advertising by dispensaries was unconstitutional: “The last thing (the law) needs is a First Amendment challenge.”

Several witnesses suggested the state pass a law declaring marijuana to be a Schedule 2 or 3 drug, allowing it to be dispensed at a pharmacy, rather than a Schedule 1 drug, which makes it illegal for all uses. Sen. Karen Kaiser, D-Kent, said she introduced a bill Wednesday to do that in Washington. But Sen. Linda Evans Parlette, R-Wenatchee, who is a pharmacist, said the federal government would have to make that change or pharmacies would continue to regard marijuana as an illegal drug.

When Gregoire was asked about the new attempts to regulate medical marijuana Wednesday afternoon, she said she didn’t think any of them had the approval of both parties’ leaders in both chambers to get a vote in the special session. But she said she would be talking with the governors of the 15 states that have legalized medical marijuana about seeking a change in federal classification of the drug.

But such a change would take studies by the Food and Drug Administration and the Health and Human Services Department, she said. “It isn’t going to happen any time soon.”

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