Washington Senate Approves Less Restrictive Medical Marijuana Bill

Saturday the Washington Senate
a bill that addresses some of the
that patients have about new restrictions on medical
marijuana. S.B.
, introduced by Sen. Ann Rivers (R-La Center), is
substantially more permissive than H.B.
, the medical marijuana bill
last month by the state House of Representatives,
although both bills would abolish dispensaries, require patients to
register with the state, and reduce limits on possession and
cultivation. The patient-friendlier provisions of S.B. 5887, which
passed by a vote of 34 to 15, include:

Collective gardens. The House bill would ban
dispensaries (a.k.a. “collective gardens”) as of May 2015, while
the Senate bill would let them continue to operate until that
September. Even after then, the Senate bill would let patients (or
their designated providers) pool their resources and grow marijuana
together for their own medical use. S.B. 5887 includes rules aimed
at preventing collective gardens from evolving into dispensaries:
Just one garden is allowed per location, no more than four patients
may grow together at a time, and at least 15 days must elapse after
one member leaves before a new member may join. 

Cultivation limit. Each patient (or a
designated provider) would be allowed to grow up to six plants
(down from 15 currently), but there would be no limit on how many
of those six plants could be flowering at one time.

Purchase limits. Patients could buy up to three
ounces of marijuana (more if a health professional says it is
necessary), 48 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form,
216 ounces of marijuana-infused liquids, and 21 grams of
concentrates. Those are three times the limits for recreational
customers. The current possession limit for patients is 24 ounces
of marijuana.

Tax exemptions. When they buy cannabis from
state-licensed stores with “medical marijuana endorsements,”
registered patients would not have to pay standard sales tax or the
retail-level excise tax, but the latter exemption would expire in
September 2015. “I am not happy about that, and we’ll be fighting
for its reinstatement this week,” says Philip Dawdy, media and
policy director at the Washington Cannabis

Supply and access. The state Liquor Control
Board, which would be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board, would
to “increase the amount of square feet available for
production by marijuana producers if the producer agrees to use the
extra space to grow products for medical use and for sale to
medical marijuana endorsed stores.” On the retail end, the board

“reconsider the maximum number of retail outlets permitted
and allow for a new license period and a greater number of retail
outlets in order to accommodate the medical needs of qualifying
patients.” When it does so, “a preference may be given to those
license applicants who intend to operate a medical-only store.”

Medical strains. The Liquor and Cannabis
“adopt rules on products sold to qualifying patients
under an endorsement, including THC concentration, CBD
concentration, and THC to CBD ratios appropriate for patient
use.” State-licensed pot stores would be allowed to “identify
the strains, varieties, THC levels and CBD levels” of their
products, although state regulations would prohibit the sort of
symptom-specific advice currently available from dispensaries.
“We’ll have to work with LCB in rule making to straighten out what
people can say,” Dawdy says. 

Recommendations. An
to H.B. 5887 defines “principal care provider”—the
person authorized to recommend marijuana for a patient—as a “health
care professional who is designated by a qualifying patient.” That
provision should help veterans who receive primary care through
V.A. hospitals where doctors are not allowed to recommend

Affirmative defense. Patients with
doctor’s recommendations would continue to have an affirmative
defense against marijuana charges until April 1, 2016, after which
they would have to register with the state, which would give them
immunity from arrest.

Registry privacy. In addition to
confirming a patient’s eligibility for higher purchase limits and
tax exemptions, information from the registry could be
with a law enforcement agency “engaged in a bona fide
specific investigation of suspected marijuana-related activity that
is illegal under Washington state law.” Illegally sharing
information from the registry would be a
Class C felony

“I’m not calling it good,” Dawdy says, “but it is a workable
framework for medical going forward.” The Senate and the House
have until Thursday to agree on a compromise bill.

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