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Sunday, September 15, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Marijuana

Spin Control: Hearing on marijuana laws takes on mainstream feel

OLYMPIA – If one lives long enough, things that once seemed impossible will become commonplace.

Or so my grandfather used to say. He was living proof of that: Born before the Wright brothers flew, he lived to watch men walk on the moon, from his living room, on a device that he couldn’t have imagined in the first half of his life.

Most people have their “Who’d’ve thunk?” moments, usually with computers or some other technology. Using my grandfather as a yardstick, I probably would shrug it off if my next cellphone added making coffee and refilling the hummingbird feeder to the tasks my current model handles like talking to global positioning satellites and allowing a video chat with my grandson from anywhere in the country.

 But last week’s hearing in the Senate Health Care Committee on changes to the state’s medical and recreational marijuana laws offered moments I would have said could never happen when I started covering pot hearings nearly 40 years ago.

Time was, back in the day, when people calling for changes in the marijuana law – not just anything remotely resembling legalization but backing off some harsh penalties – tended toward black leather or jeans and tie-dye. Almost no hearing went without someone with a ponytail telling a panel of suits with buzz cuts they should end their war against a God-given natural herb that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew on their plantations. (Historical footnote: Washington and Jefferson grew hemp; there’s no evidence they smoked pot.)

The suits would scowl and eventually someone with a buzz cut would lecture someone with a ponytail about studies that show marijuana was a gateway to heroin or would lead to behavior straight out of “Reefer Madness.” Most elected officials seemed intent on giving off the vibe that not only would they never dream of using marijuana, they’d disown any family member who did.

The result was always predictable: Nothing changed.

With Washington’s legalization of two kinds of marijuana, pot bill hearings this year are practically indistinguishable from most other issues in the Legislature. There were still a few ponytails among the testifiers at Thursday’s hearing, although the hair in some tails was pretty gray. There were also men and women in business suits who described their marijuana growing, processing or selling operations in terms of, well, business.

There were marijuana patients who were disabled veterans, who received respectful “Thank you for your service” tributes from committee members. Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, closed the hearing by observing many senators present were familiar with medical marijuana from using it or knowing someone who did, including her. “Not myself but my brother,” she added.

Also of note was the proliferation of marijuana-based interest groups. The pot lobby may be as big and fractured as any in Olympia. There were members of the Washington Cannabusiness Association, which represents recreational pot folks. That’s not to be confused with the Cannabis Action Coalition or the People for Medical Cannabis or Cause M or Americans for Safe Access, which represent some segment of the medical marijuana industry and sometimes took positions against those of the cannabiz folks.

Witnesses talked of marijuana tinctures and oils and butters, chemical compounds and combinations. There was a discussion of whether to ban the smoking of dried flower buds, which sponsor Ann Rivers, R-Vancouver, initially wanted. Not because it was marijuana but because it was smoke; patients argued this was the most efficient delivery system. “Who knew people would argue smoking is actually good for you?” she said later.

And no one once mentioned Washington or Jefferson grew pot. Who knew, indeed?

Coming this week in Olympia

The Legislature will have long days in the committee rooms and relatively little floor action this week. The House State Operations Committee will look at a series of changes to election laws throughout the week, including proposals to provide return postage for ballots, allow voters to fax in their ballots, return to poll-site voting, and extend voter registration deadlines.

The Senate Law and Justice Committee will consider restrictions on powdered alcohol on Monday.

The House Labor Committee has a hearing on raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour over four years on Monday.

The House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee has a work session on the state’s response to the Carlton Complex fires on Thursday.

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