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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control: Legislative proposals on marijuana might surprise some older residents

A nearly mature marijuana plant shows dozens of flowers on a single stalk at Phat Panda.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
By Jim Camden For The Spokesman-Review

The clearest sign that a person is a Baby Boomer may be the tendency to shake one’s head when hearing of ideas being considered by the Legislature about marijuana.

For a generation raised on “Reefer Madness” and Cheech and Chong routines, the only time 20th -century legislatures seemed to consider a possible change to marijuana laws was to debate whether to increase the penalties for having it or lower the quantity of possession that would result in a felony.

Now, the Legislature considers proposals on how many people should be allowed to grow and sell marijuana, who should get those licenses, whether the limits on how much a person can buy at one time should be increased and whether to ask the feds to please, please, please let us buy pot from a state-licensed dispensary with a debit card so the stores don’t have so much cash on hand.

The primary sentence enhancement related to marijuana under consideration this session is whether to tack on an extra 12 months to the prison term of someone convicted of robbing a pot store. Legislators are considering the creation of a 13-member state-sponsored commission on the plant’s production and processing, set up by the Department of Agriculture, to oversee various aspects of the growing and distributing of marijuana. This would only happen if enough of the state’s marijuana growers ask the department to do that.

A generation ago, pot growers did everything they could not to have contact with the government, and the government’s only interest in overseeing the growers’ activities was to stop them.

The Legislature also is considering whether to be concerned about how strong the marijuana is getting, and whether to put additional restrictions on who can buy the products high in tetrahydrocannabinol, the plant’s active ingredient. While all marijuana products currently can be sold to anyone 21 or older, the initial proposal would have upped that to 25 for high-THC products.

The proposal had support from groups that deal with addictions and substance abuse, but strong opposition from the marijuana industry, which has some of the strongest and best-heeled lobbyists in Olympia. (So strong are they that the word “marijuana” hardly ever appears in any bills or documents, replaced instead with “cannabis” – a word that probably never passed the lips of a Baby Boomer in their prime.)

The age limit eventually was stricken from the bill, and, as often happens when the Legislature faces significant opposition, has been replaced with a study of the possible health risks of high-THC products to youth and adults, to be finished by Dec. 1, 2028. If passed, it also would require the state Department of Health to come up with a sign pot stores must post warning about the potential dangers of high-THC products and the possibility that they may be more dangerous for people under 25. Marijuana store employees also could get optional training on high-THC products, although the department will have to consult with marijuana growers and sellers, as well as health care providers and addiction prevention professionals in putting the program together.

Not clear yet is whether young store employees will be asked to request ID from anyone who appears to be at least 60 and warn them that such high-THC products aren’t like the pot they smoked in college.

The Legislature toyed with a proposal to allow people to “grow-their-own” at home, but bogged down a bit on whether the total number of plants should be four, six, 10 or 15. It didn’t survive the latest deadline, but the committee hearing did produce some interesting comparisons, such as suggesting storage requirements for the home grower should be no stricter than those for gun owners.

Such proposals have been introduced almost since recreational marijuana became legal more than a decade ago. They likely fail because they bump up against two pillars of the system that has grown up since Initiative 502 passed – a thriving marijuana industry with growing political clout and an ever-increasing pile of tax money collected from sales.

It’s possible that the only way home-grown marijuana could become legal would be if the Legislature approves a new type of store licensed by the Liquor and Cannabis Board, that sells starter plants taxed by the state and grown by members of the trade organizations that support the current industry.

Because marijuana is now primarily a legal commodity in Washington, it is subject to the kind of mundane legislative proposals that other things experience. There are proposals to limit how big or how numerous a pot shop’s signs can be and what can be on them, or who gets to say where a pot shop can or can’t be located.

Republicans are generally more dubious of loosening marijuana laws than Democrats, but that doesn’t keep them from coming up with ideas to change the way the taxes are spent. One proposal this year suggested doubling the amount of money cities and counties get from legalized marijuana taxes. Another suggested that nearly a third of that tax take be set aside to help cover higher reimbursements for Medicaid services rather than being dropped into the state’s General Fund.

But Democrats, who control the tax and budget processes in the Legislature, didn’t schedule either for a hearing. Members of an earlier generation might say Democrats bogarted the Republican tax ideas, if they didn’t have to worry about someone younger replying “OK, boomer.”