On March 2, during a late-night vote in Olympia, state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles rose to offer a last-minute amendment to her own bill.

She was doing the bidding of senate Republicans, she admitted later. A number of conservative lawmakers were willing to vote for Kohl-Welles's overall measure, which seeks to clarify state laws on medical marijuana and allow dispensaries, but only if she would ban advertisements for medical marijuana in newspapers and magazines.

Why did Republicans want a ban on ads—like the ads appearing regularly in this paper and others—that provide information about legal medical marijuana providers? Republican state senator Michael Baumgartner of Spokane told the senate chamber: "I think it's quite clear that they're promoting or have a risk of promoting to children... Let's not lure kids into this sort of a behavior or lifestyle."

Wanting above all to get the bill through the senate, Kohl-Welles agreed. "We certainly do not need to have advertisements, whether they be in any form, that would be considered to promote the use of cannabis to anybody," she told the chamber.

Her amendment passed, and soon afterward her bill cleared the senate, 29 to 20, with Baumgartner and eight other Republicans among the "yea" votes and seven Democrats among those voting "nay." In other words, Kohl-Welles needed those Republican votes. Her bill would have failed without them. But adding this amendment has brought confusion—and charges of unconstitutionality—to a bill that was designed to do the opposite: add clarity to Washington State's laws on medical pot.

Stewart Jay, a University of Washington law professor and an expert on constitutional law, called the ad ban "alarming," vague, and a violation of the First Amendment. It would prohibit ads featuring "artistic depictions of cannabis" as well as any ad that "promotes or tends to promote the use or abuse of cannabis." Whatever that means. A fine of $1,000 would be levied against producers or distributors who take out such ads, and media that run offending ads face unspecified sanctions. "I can't imagine a court upholding it," Jay said in an e-mail. "I hope that the effort to legalize marijuana is not derailed over concerns for its advertising."

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The ACLU of Washington, which is strongly backing Kohl-Welles's overall bill and is normally a proponent of free speech, has given mixed signals about the ad-ban amendment and recently stopped responding to Stranger requests for comment on the issue. Meanwhile, Kohl-Welles told The Stranger that before she proposed her ad-ban amendment, the ACLU told her the amendment was constitutional.

Kohl-Welles, and many others, will be keeping an eye on the ad-ban language as the state house Health Care and Wellness Committee takes up the medical pot bill this month. recommended