Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, urging patience
  • Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, urging patience
Yesterday's hearing of the House Committee on Health Care & Wellness began with a plea for patience from State Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle), the prime mover behind this year's effort to clarify the state's medical cannabis laws.

“I know there are a lot of concerns about this bill still," Kohl-Welles told her colleagues in the state house. “This is a work in progress, as you all know, and I really think we need to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” With Kohl-Welles was State Senator Bill Hinkle (R-Cle-Elum) State Senator Jerome Delvin (R-Richland), who also supports the bill, also admitted it needs more clarity, and also told the state house committee: "Let's keep working on it."

Of course, there are wildly differing views on what's wrong with the bill and what needs to be done to make it worth passing. Consequently, around 30 testifiers showed up at yesterday's hearing to offer their kudos, complaints, and suggested new amendments for the committee's consideration.

Kohl-Welles, for her part, said she wants the bill changed so that medical cannabis dispensaries can run on a for-profit model (not just on the non-profit model to which they are currently limited). She also said she wants changes to language restricting how medical professionals who authorize medical cannabis can behave. (The bill's current language says they can't operate a business that's "primarily" about writing medical marijuana authorizations, can't offer to examine a patient "solely or primarily" for the purpose of letting them use medical cannabis, and can't "include any statement or reference, visual or otherwise, on the medical use of cannabis in any advertisement.")

Charles Heaney, representing the King County Medical Society, said language restricting the behavior of medical professionals has actually improved the bill—especially the language limiting how medical professionals can advertise the availability of medical cannabis. Those restrictions, he said, would prevent "the kind of entrepreneurial mischief that we see in the classified section of the paper each week.”

Philip Dawdy, Medical and Policy Director for the Washington Cannabis Association, said the bill's additional ban on medical cannabis advertising in newspapers by any party—a ban that was added via an amendment as the bill passed the state senate on March 2—was sure to be challenged and would not hold up in court. His group's lobbyist, Ezra Eickmeyer, stressed the need to get a quality bill, not just any bill. “We would love to see a good bill this year, but we have to do it without creating a whole new list of problems," Eickmeyer said. “If we have to come back next year, we will.”

The testimony—and the opinions, and the demands, and the skepticism—went on.

Alison Holcomb, Drug Policy Director for the ACLU of Washington, and Rachel Kurtz, Executive Director of the Cannabis Defense Coalition, both asked that lawmakers add legal protections for medical cannabis users who don't want to be on a proposed state government registry (the registry itself is supposed to protect medical cannabis users from unlawful arrest, but of course many medical cannabis users don't want to be on a government registry in the first place). John Schochet, bringing some of Seattle city government's feelings to the hearing, noted that the mayor, the city attorney, and the entire city council support Kohl-Welles's legislation. (With some proposed amendments or their own, of course.)

Don Pierce, of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, suggested that if the state likes medical cannabis so much, then it should be the one selling the stuff. Prosecutors from around the state announced they are opposed to the bill, for various reasons including its attempt to put a ceiling on the length of prison time one can get for violating medical cannabis laws. The Washington State Pharmacy Association opposed the bill, basically on the grounds that nothing except a pharmacy should hand out such drugs. And the Washington State Association for Substance Abuse Prevention expressed concern for the safety of children.

Dispenser Steve Sarich: Not impressed.
  • Dispenser Steve Sarich: Not impressed.
Oh, and! And! Steve Sarich, who said he represents approximately 10,000 medical marijuana patients in Washington and owns a medical marijuana clinic in Seattle, showed up to testify wearing a button that read: "NO PATIENT REGISTRY."

He told committee members: "This is just horrible, horrible legislation.”

The committee has until March 24 to decide what—if anything—it wants to do with all of yesterday's input.