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Abortion coverage, medical marijuana bills advance in Washington House

OLYMPIA – Two of the Washington legislative session’s most controversial issues moved out of a House committee Thursday, giving the full chamber the chance to vote on whether most insurance policies must cover abortion and a significant rewrite of the medical marijuana laws.

On a 9-8 partisan vote, the panel passed HB 2148, often called the Reproductive Parity Act, over the opposition of Republicans like Rep. Shelly Short, of Addy, who said it was taking “choice” away from people with moral objections to abortion who don’t want to pay for insurance plans that cover it.

Supporters like Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, said the decision on whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman and the people she chooses to consult – her doctor, family or faith community: “It is not for a business to decide, it is not for an insurance company to decide, it is not for someone else’s faith community to decide.”

Committee Chairwoman Eileen Cody, D-West Seattle, the sponsor of the bill, said for years she’s had men ask her why they should pay for insurance plans with maternity services that they’ll never use. But, she added, “we’re not going to change anyone’s mind either way on this.”

On a much wider 12-5 split, it approved HB 2149, a plan to put the largely unregulated sale of medical marijuana under the Liquor Control Board, which is setting up a tightly regulated recreational marijuana system. It would also significantly cut the amount of the drug a patient can have at any one time.

Under the 1998 initiative, patients are allowed to have as much as 24 ounces of the drug. The bill would cut that to 3 ounces but allow a doctor to recommend a higher amount, particularly for patients who need large amounts of the plant to derive oils or other products.

It would ban medical marijuana dispensaries, which have sprung up around the state to sell to patients under the state’s collective grow statutes. That proliferation was never the intent of the law, Cody said.

The bill is still “a work in progress” and it’s likely to change, said ranking Republican Joe Schmick, of Colfax. The Senate also has two bills trying to blend the marijuana statutes, but with different provisions.