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March 13, 2014 at 7:19 AM

Legislature down to the wire on medical marijuana fixes

It’s unclear what will happen to medical marijuana as the state Legislature heads into Thursday, its last scheduled day of this session.

The Senate passed Saturday sweeping new rules for the largely unregulated medical system to reconcile it with the state’s new recreational pot system. Sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center,  the bill passed with the supermajority required because it amends Initiative 502, the recreational pot law.

But the bill hit a snag in the House where Republicans led by Rep. Cary Condotta of East Wenatchee insisted that cities and counties should get a cut of the new recreational pot taxes to compensate for enforcing the new law. Condotta called the legal pot law an unfunded mandate.

House Finance Chair Reuven Carlyle, D-Seattle, said he’s not opposed to revenue sharing. But Carlyle wants it to be based on data and known impacts of the new law. And that won’t be available until next year when pot stores have been open for a while. Carlyle also acknowledged that Democrats want pot tax revenues for education spending.

As of Wednesday night, the plan by Democrats was to push a stripped down bill that wouldn’t regulate medical marijuana as much as the Rivers bill. But the Democrats may set in motion the elimination of collective gardens and dispensaries, which some see as arising from a loophole in the existing medical marijuana rules.

Because the Democrats wouldn’t change I-502 such a bill would only need a simple majority.

But it’s not clear if the GOP-controlled Senate would want to follow — and if there’s time enough for them to do so — or, if Condotta and Carlyle might cut some kind of bipartisan deal.

There’s some feeling among lawmakers that inaction might be better than a rushed flawed bill. After all, key parts of the Rivers bill wouldn’t take effect until the summer of 2015. That leaves lawmakers the session that starts in January to fix medical marijuana.

One big question looms about waiting until next year: How would the federal Department of Justice respond? Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for western Washington has said the current medical rules are “not tenable.” Would the DOJ allow the state’s recreational system to unfold without a check on medical marijuana’s current “wild west” regime.

Stay tuned.

Comments | More in Government, Health | Topics: Initiative 502, medical marijuana


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