OLYMPIA – Major changes to the state’s largely unregulated medical marijuana industry passed the Senate after sponsors beat back a challenge to requirements for a patient database and a plea to let recreational users grow their own.
Medical marijuana stores would be regulated by the Liquor Control Board, which currently licenses recreational pot growers and sellers, under a bill drafted by Ann Rivers, R-La Center, and Brian Hatfield, D-Raymond. The agency would expand the number of licensed stores to meet the medical market, and current recreational marijuana stores could get an endorsement to sell special medical strains, which patients could buy without paying some of the heavy taxes on recreational pot.
The number of plants a patient could grow at home would be cut from 15 to six in most cases, although the number could go up with a doctor’s recommendation. Collective gardens, which some people blame for the explosion in unregulated dispensaries, would be severely restricted.
Reconciling the state’s different recreational and medical marijuana laws is one of the major tasks in this year’s Legislature, and Friday’s vote was the first on the floor of either chamber.
It passed on a bipartisan count of 36-11. Before that vote, opponents tried unsuccessfully to strip a requirement that all patients must be entered in a database maintained by the state Department of Health, and to add a provision that recreational users could grow up to six plants at home, just like medical users.
Current medical marijuana laws allow individuals to grow some plants for themselves, or as part of a cooperative. Recreational marijuana laws, however, prohibit individuals from growing their own, and restrict use of the drug to tightly regulated production and sales overseen by the Liquor Control Board.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said other states that have legalized recreational marijuana allow for a few plants to be grown at home. Allowing medical cooperatives to continue but banning individual recreational growers “makes no sense,” she said.
“We allow home-brewing for beer,” Kohl-Welles said.
But Rivers said the initiative that voters approved for recreational marijuana in 2012 banned home grows. Legislators in Colorado, which also legalized recreational use, have told her they believed that state was wrong to allow people to grow marijuana at home.
“They said ‘It is a genie you can’t get back in the bottle,’ ” Rivers said.
She also defended the database for medical marijuana users, saying other states have some system for registering those patients.
Kohl-Welles got support from Sen. Brian Dansel, R-Republic, in the fight to replace the database with a state-issued authorization card.
“I think registries are a bad thing,” Dansel said, adding that registries for some over-the-counter drugs are different because those drugs can be more harmful.
An amendment to replace the database with Department of Health-issued authorization cards failed on a 21-26 vote, and several other amendments were defeated on voice votes.
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