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Board clears Sen. Roach on foreign travel

OLYMPIA — A complaint against an Auburn legislator for taking an improper trip to Turkey and Azerbaijan last year was dismissed by the Legislative Ethics Board.

Some of the allegations were outside its authority, the board said, and the trip involved enough official and educational meetings that it wasn't an improper gift.

Republican Sen. Pam Roach was criticized by Reps. Chris Hurst and Cathy Dahlquist for joining legislators from other states on a trip to the two countries last spring while the Legislature was struggling through special sessions with its budget. They said she "abandonned her duties" to take the trip, which they contended was sponsored by groups with political views opposed to the United States, which "may have endangered citizens of her legislative district, Washington State and the United States by giving aid and comfort to the enemies of the United States.

But the Legislative Ethics Act does not say that travel during the session is an abandonment of legislative duties, nor does it allow for claims that accepting travel should be "conditioned on the political beliefs of the donor," the board said.  

The law does set rules for accepting "reasonable expenses" for travel as a gift from another entity, the board said. But Roach's travel seemed to be made in her official capacity, it added, with discussions of energy policy and security, meetings with elected officials, and meetings on Turkish politics and the political system.

The Ethics Board had previously dismissed several complaints that Roach and her allies had filed against Hurst and Dahlquist, which included allegations they had made derogatory remarks against the sponsors of her trip.

Roach is running for re-election against Dahlquist, a fellow Republican, who is being supported by Hurst, a Democrat.

Sunday Spin: Say what No. 2

Keeping track of legislative committees can be a chore for the public during the session, because some panels string several topics together and because the House and Senate have come up with different titles for groups with the same purview. Between sessions, even legislators have trouble.

Take last week, when two House committees held a joint session over problems with the state’s new legal marijuana businesses obtaining bank services.

Rep. Steve Kirby, chairman of the Business and Financial Services Committee, opened the first half of the session and noted he’d turn the gavel over to Rep. Chris Hurst, chairman of the other committee about half way through. But he couldn’t quite remember its name.

“I’ve never known the name. It’s a weird name and I don’t even worry about it,” Kirby said.

“You’re on the committee,” said Hurst.

True, said Kirby, but he still doesn’t know the name.

For the record, it’s the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. We sometimes call it the sin committee because it has jurisdiction over booze, pot and gambling.

State could try to close pot dispensaries

OLYMPIA — State officials may crack down on medical marijuana dispensaries next year, even as it licenses other businesses to grow, process and sell the drug for recreational uses.

The state’s 15-year-old medical marijuana law was never intended to allow people to make a profit by selling the drug to patients, a task force of officials from several agencies told a legislative committee. Dispensaries aren’t even mentioned in the law.

“These dispensaries are absolutely illegal, criminal operations,” said Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee. “What's it going to take to shut all these down?”

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House passes quick fix to pot law

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. 

What should a pot shop be like?

 OLYMPIA – Some time in the next year, Washington residents will be able to walk into a store and buy legal marijuana. Will that store be like Nordstrom, Wal-Mart or a mom and pop grocery?

That question surfaced Tuesday in a legislative hearing, although it couldn't be answered. The State Liquor Control Board, which is tasked by Initiative 502 with setting up the system to regulate growth, processing and sales of legal marijuana, announced early in the day it had just hired consultants to help set up that system.

The House Government Accountability and Oversight Committee meanwhile looked at ways to change the initiative’s rules on where a store can be located and how much a license costs…

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