Reforms to state's medical marijuana system up for debate

Jan 21, 2011

Some state lawmakers are proposing major changes to Washington's voter-approved medical marijuana system. 

Associated Press reporter Curt Woodward describes a packed meeting yesterday of the Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee, which was discussing Senate Bill 5073, proposed by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle. It would give medical marijuana users more protections against arrest than they currently have. 

The bill also would bring the supply chain of medical pot out of the current legal gray area, addressing a conundrum in Washington's current system: it's technically legal for a patient to possess pot, but the proper ways of getting the drug can be unclear.

Some of the amendments proposed are:

  • licensing growers, processors and sellers of medical marijuana.
  • creating a voluntary, secure registry of authorized patients.
  • allowing qualified patients to avoid arrest by showing proper documentation, rather than only allowing them a defense in court if they're charged with possession.
  • Legalizing dispensaries of medical marijuana and charging them business and occupation taxes.

As Jordan Schrader reports in the News Tribune, the voter-approved medical-marijuana law has so many pitfalls for patients, even a couple of pillars of the Tacoma community see something to fear in it. Among those testifying in favor of the reforms was Tacoma councilwoman Lauren Walker, who recently entered the murky waters of medicinal marijuana law two weeks ago as part of her husband's treatment for melanoma.

Walker's husband is the Reverend Marcus Walker and the councilwoman half-joked about the perils they now face: 

“Picture this: Local minister and deputy mayor arrested for having medical marijuana in their possession,” Lauren Walker said as she testified to state lawmakers.  "I don't want to go there." 

Shrader reports the bill has widespread bi-partisan support in the state Senate.  But it could stumble on opposition that has been quietly building among key law enforcement officials.

The Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys put forward an alternative proposal Thursday that seeks to avoid what Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist calls “the Starbucks approach” to the proliferation of medicinal marijuana.

And the bill would not address concerns about which conditions are allowed to be treated with pot. According to Seattle Times staff reporter Susan Kelleher, the list of qualifying conditions is decided by a special panel that is highly political. It has denied the use of pot for treatment of some widespread conditions, such as anxiety and depression. Although California allows medical marijuana to treat those disorders, Washington's panel says there's insufficient scientific proof that it works.