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November 21, 2014 at 7:13 PM

State Sen. Kohl-Welles outlines bill to transform marijuana regulation

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles plans to propose a bill that would regulate medical and recreational marijuana in a single system, allow home growing of six marijuana plants for all adults 21 and older and slash pot taxes.

Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, said she is vetting the bill’s outline with stakeholders and legislators, but planned to pre-file the bill next month ahead of the legislative session in January.

“We have a regulated recreational system, but not for medical marijuana,” said Kohl-Welles. “We’ve got to take a new look at this.”

The bill would fold medical marijuana into the state’s regulated system. Collective gardens would be phased out by Aug. 1, 2016, but medical growers who have business licenses and are paying taxes could apply to grow in the new system. The bill would remove the state’s limit on recreational stores, so dispensary owners could apply to own a store.

Kohl-Welles’ approach would radically alter the state system’s tax structure. Current excise taxes are applied at every rung of the supply chain, from producer to processor to retailer. The bill would consolidate taxes at the three levels of the production process and collapse them into one, paid at the retail point of sale.

Kohl-Welles said the tax would be renamed “so businesses involved would be able to deduct expenses from federal taxes.” Right now, marijuana businesses pay federal tax on gross sales, before state taxes are paid.

High-CBD products, typically used by medical patients, would be given a tax break, eliminating the need for most patients to have authorizations, Kohl-Welles said. In special cases, such as those seeking high-THC pot for medical problems or parents who want access for their kids, patients could get medical exemptions from the state Department of Health.

“It’s like a mini registry, but only for those people who want to (participate)… it’s not requiring everybody,” said Kohl-Welles.

The bill would reduce the so-called 1,000-foot buffer rule that disallows marijuana businesses within that distance from schools, parks and other places kids congregate. Kohl-Welles said a 500-foot buffer would allow businesses to more easily find locations to operate. Local governments could extend the limit back to 1,000 feet if they desired.

Kohl-Welles’ plan would allow third parties to deliver pot from growers to retailers and calls for licensed delivery. It establishes a state cannabis board and research licenses for studying pot. The bill will also seek to encourage local governments to allow pot businesses by sharing revenue only with those jurisdictions that participate in the industry.

Kohl-Welles said she thought her bill would appeal to legislators because it’s simple and doesn’t direct where revenue goes.

“The bills we had last year were much more complex than this. This is pretty straightforward,” she said. “I’m just trying to come up with good, strong rational policy .”

Medical marijuana industry advocates said they wanted to see the full bill before they gave it their support, but saw some elements they liked.

“From what I’ve seen so far, yes, I believe I would support it,” Vivian McPeak, the executive director of Hempfest, said in an email. “This potential legislation is the best approach I’ve seen come out of Olympia so far at harmonizing the disparities between our medical and recreational cannabis industries in Washington state. Senator Kohl-Welles has taken time to hear the patient community.”

Industry lobbyist Philip Dawdy said he was glad to see home growing would be allowed, but wanted to see the language of the bill before deciding. Sen. Kohl-Welles has been a leading advocate for medical marijuana, Dawdy said, but he doubts her bill will be alone this session.

“You’ve got to measure all of this against a new reality in Olympia,” he said. “The Republicans are in charge in the Senate and (Sen.) Ann Rivers is their go-to on this issue and she’s working on legislation herself.”

Rivers on Friday said she wasn’t prepared to comment on Kohl-Welles’ proposal.

Comments | More in News | Topics: hempfest, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, senator kohl-welles

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