By Steve Elliott of Toke of the Town
The Washington Legislature's main proponent of legalizing and licensing medical marijuana dispensaries announced on Tuesday that the attempt has failed. Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles said even her most recent, scaled-back bill won't go forward.
Kohl-Welles called it "the greatest disappointment of my legislative career," reports Jordan Scrader at the Tacoma News Tribune.
Her first try regulating the pot shops -- which have already sprung up statewide, especially in the Seattle and Spokane areas -- was gutted by Governor Christine Gregoire, who hen-heartedly claimed she was concerned about state employees being federally prosecuted, even though that has never happened, even once, in any state which licenses dispensaries.
The few changes which the hen-hearted governor allowed to become law include remnants that authorize collective marijuana gardens. Also included are some vague references to dispensaries, which the industry hopes to use to convince courts the shops are legal.
The next move is up to cities and counties, with Seattle being the only municipality in the state which has shown actual friendliness to the dispensaries. Patients in much of the rest of the state can only watch as even the possibility of safe access to the treatment recommended by their doctors is taken away.
Tacoma has ordered dozens of dispensaries to close, and their appeals were put on hold while the City Council waited for the Legislature to act (which action, of course, was gutted by the governor). Meanwhile, federal enforcement continues in Spokane, with dispensary owners being raided for doing the exact same thing their counterparts in Seattle area doing.
"My efforts to make improvements to existing law were motivated by the need to provide qualifying patients with protection from arrest and prosecution and access to a safe, secure and reliable source of the medicine they are legally entitled to use and that has been recommended to them by their licensed health care provider," Kohl-Welles said. "I also sought to increase public safety and provide a bright line for law enforcement in determining those who are authorized patients, regulated growers and dispensers.
"Despite having bipartisan support, we were unable to achieve those objectives," Kohl-Welles said.
"Senate Bill 5073, the medical marijuana legislation I originally introduced this session, included many key improvements to the status quo, such as creating a state regulatory system for licensing producers, processors, and dispensaries and protecting patients who voluntarily sign up on a confidential, secure registry from arrest and protection," Kohl-Welles said.
"Unfortunately, around the time the bill passed the Legislature with bipartisan support, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) reinforced its authority to prosecute those involved with commercial dispensaries," Kohl-Welles said. "As a result, Governor Gregoire vetoed the most substantive parts of SB 5073 out of concern that state employees involved in regulating medical marijuana would be at risk of federal arrest and prosecution.
"Unfortunately, in my opinion, the situation for patients and their designated providers was exacerbated as a result," Kohl-Welles said.
"While the governor did encourage the Legislature to follow-up with a special session bill, it is apparent there is insufficient time to pass a bill addressing these problems at this time," she said.
"My original bill was developed over the course of a year, with significant input from a diverse group of stakeholders, including groups representing patients, designated providers, advocates, local governments, state agencies, and law enforcement," Kohl-Welles said.
"But it's very difficult to develop complex policy -- especially with multiple stakeholders -- in the course of a 30-day special session," she said. "And, unfortunately, in the end, it just was not possible to pass a bill that would address the governor's concerns, while meeting the needs of patients and local governments in such a limited time frame.
"The governor also specified that the leaders of the four legislative caucuses agree to move the bill," Kohl-Welles said. "Unfortunately, that was not possible.
"In addition to my keen disappointment in not being able to improve access and protections for patients, I also regret our failure to provide cities and counties with the tools they need to regulate dispensaries and grow operations," she said.
"My most recent attempt to reform the medical marijuana law would have scaled back the proposal to a pilot program giving local governments in counties with populations greater than 200,000 the option of authorizing and regulating nonprofit patient cooperatives," Kohl-Welles said. "It also would have created a joint legislative task force to make recommendations to the Legislature next December on issues still needing resolution.
"But, even this proposal failed to receive sufficient support to move forward in the remaining days of the special session, mainly due to the overriding focus on the budget," she said.
"While it is clear this issue has stalled for now, we cannot continue to ignore this issue -- it simply will not solve itself," Kohl-Welles said. "It is clear that the needs of patients and local jurisdictions remain unresolved and will necessitate further legislative efforts."
Article From Toke of the Town and republished with special permission.