by Phillip Smith
Medical marijuana bills advanced on both coasts this week. In Washington state, a bill already approved by the Senate passed out of committee Wednesday and is headed to a floor vote in the House, while in Delaware, a bill passed out of committee the same day and is headed for a floor vote in the Senate.
In Washington, a now heavily amended Senate Bill 5073 passed out of the House Health Care Committee on a tight 6-5 vote. Washington already has a medical marijuana law, but this bill would create a regulatory framework for a system of state-licensed dispensaries. Dispensaries are already operating in the state without formal legal approval, and one dispensary operator was recently convicted of state marijuana trafficking offenses in Spokane.
But the bill, if passed, won't necessarily ensure an in for existing dispensaries. Instead, it allows the state Health Department to determine the number of dispensaries to operate in each county and sets up a lottery for licenses. Existing dispensaries are not grandfathered in. Dispensaries would no longer have to be non-profit, as the bill originally envisaged.
Patients could voluntarily register with the state and be protected from prosecution if they possessed up to 15 plants and 24 ounces of medical marijuana. Caregivers could also register with the same protections. Patients who do not register, but do possess a letter from a physician could use medical need as part of an affirmative defense.
Patients and caregivers could also band together in grow collectives of up to 10 patients and 150 plants.
On the other side of the country, Delaware's Senate Bill 17 passed out of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday afternoon on a unanimous vote. The bill would create a system of three non-profit medical marijuana dispensaries, one for each county, to be regulated by the Department of Health and Human Services.
It would allow patients with approved qualifying conditions and a written recommendation from a physician to obtain a patient ID card from the department, which would protect the patient from arrest if he or she is in compliance with the law.
Patients would be allowed to possess up to six ounces of marijuana, while registered caregivers could possess that amount for up to five patients. The law does not, however, appear to explicitly allow patients or their caregivers to grow their own plants.
The bill now heads for a Senate floor vote, possibly on March 31. If it passes, it then goes on to the House.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have already approved medical marijuana law. Bills are moving in other states this year, including Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, and New Hampshire.