Medical marijuana activists were blindsided when the state senate's Health Care Committee surreptitiously passed a bill last week that would repeal the core of Washington's medical marijuana laws.
HB 2149 had been scheduled for a public hearing on February 27, but the day before—the same day The Stranger suggested calling the legislative hotline at 800-562-6000 to oppose the bill—lawmakers canceled the hearing. This led medical cannabis advocates to breathe a sigh of relief, only to be shocked when, 86 minutes into the committee hearing, lawmakers passed the bill in all of 30 seconds.
In addition to outlawing storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, the bill, which already cleared the state house, would (1) repeal the primary legal defense that patients may raise if prosecuted, (2) drastically reduce the amount of medical cannabis that patients may possess and the number of plants they may grow, (3) repeal the right of patients to grow together in small groups, and (4) create a mandatory government registry for pot patients.
A similar proposal, SB 5887, is also moving forward, despite the controversy.
If passed, the bills would gut many of the state's protections for the sick and dying who use cannabis under a doctor's care. The bills are ostensibly tailored to appease US Attorneys Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, who vaguely threatened to conduct raids if the state doesn't rein in storefront medical pot shops.
But the bills are no surgical strike on medical dispensaries; they actually target the "affirmative defense" in the medical marijuana law, which allows patients and care providers to raise a legal defense before a judge—a keystone of our voter-approved medical pot law that has nothing to do with dispensaries.
Last year, when The Stranger obtained documents outlining the state's plans to gut the medical cannabis law, the ACLU of Washington vowed to protect the right of pot growers to raise the affirmative defense at trial. ACLU criminal justice director Alison Holcomb, who also wrote the 2012 initiative that legalized cannabis for adult recreational use in Washington, said at the time, "The ACLU opposes elimination of home growing and the affirmative defense."
But now, Holcomb says the organization is officially neutral on the anti-medical-marijuana proposals, even though the bills would revoke those legal defenses for pot-growing patients who don't register with a proposed state database.
For now, HB 2149 and SB 5887 are moving forward, in some cases without public testimony.