OLYMPIA – A House panel rolled 18 different proposals to change Washington’s marijuana laws into a single wide-ranging bill Monday, hoping to address at least some problems with the state’s medical and recreational pot systems.
As currently written, the bill includes some contradictory provisions. Several sections restrict the ability of cities or counties can to ban recreational marijuana businesses in some sections; another bans all recreational pot and any medical form of the drug that doesn’t come in a pill.
“We will be making major changes to the marijuana laws here in Washington state,” Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Pierce County, said at the start of two days worth of hearings on the omnibus bill. “I am convinced that before the session is over there will be licenses for medical marijuana.”
Hurst, chairman of the House Commerce and Gambling Committee, said the many different proposals were joined into a single bill to avoid 18 separate hearings on the topic. Some ideas will be discarded and others will be changed, he predicted.
Medical marijuana, which currently is unlicensed and untaxed, would come under some form of state scrutiny, either from the Liquor Control Board, which oversees recreational marijuana, or the Department of Health because of its medicinal properties, or Department of Agriculture because it’s a new commodity.
Cities and counties might be able to ban both kinds of marijuana businesses, but only if voters approve. Local governments might be offered a share of the tax revenue the state collects on marijuana as a way to head off bans or moratoria; if they set up a ban, they might not get any pot tax money. They might also be able to adjust the distances those businesses must be located from some child-related facilities.
Some health and beauty products that contain chemicals from cannabis might go unregulated. The state might require patients to have a numbered “verification card” from their doctor, but the state database might not contain the patient’s identity. It might license businesses that deliver marijuana to consumers, which is currently illegal. It might set aside some money to fight illegal marijuana sales, and stiffen penalties for selling otherwise legal pot to minors, or smoking it in public.
Rep. Brad Klippert, R-Kennewick, generated some grumbling from a generally pro-marijuana crowd for his suggestion that all recreational marijuana be outlawed and medical patients be limited to pills.
“This is something we need to do for the safety of Washington citizens, especially children,” Klippert said.
On the flip side of the issue, Hurst said the state should consider auctioning to licensed growers and processors the marijuana seized from illegal operations. “It keeps us from destroying a product that has value. . .that’s a leftover from the war on drugs.”