Washington voters approved the medicinal use of marijuana through an initiative in 1998. But ever since then, users and growers have been caught in a legal limbo - caught between the voter-approved initiative and federal drug laws that make no exception for the medicinal use of cannabis.
Much more clarity is needed in Washington law and that’s precisely what Senate Bill 5073 does.
The bill licenses growers of marijuana and the people who process and dispense the drug for medicinal use. It outlines the process for acquiring cannabis for medicinal use and requires those in the business of growing and dispensing marijuana be licensed. The state Department of Health would be required to keep a registry where health care professionals could register qualifying patients.
The measure passed the state Senate on a vote of 29-20 and awaits passage in the state House of Representatives. Lawmakers there should send this bill to Gov. Chris Gregoire for her signature into law.
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After a feisty campaign in 1998, Washington voters made it clear that they wanted patients to be able to use marijuana. There was great debate, with proponents saying seriously ill cancer patients could find relief from chemotherapy-induced nausea by smoking a small amount of marijuana. Critics said supporters were simply trying to find a way to use an illegal substance.
In the end, those advocating on behalf of patients carried the election.
Initiative 692 asked a simple question: “Shall the medical use of marijuana for certain terminal or debilitating conditions be permitted, and physicians authorized to advise patients about medical use of marijuana?
More than 1.1 million Washington voters approved the measure – 58.97 percent. The measure found favor with Thurston County voters, too, passing here with 42,677 voters in support, and 35,020 opposed.
The Legislature has twice tinkered with the initiative law, trying to bring more clarity. But recently, there have been an increasing number of conflicts between marijuana users/growers and law enforcement. More clarity in the law is definitely needed.
Under the bill under consideration this session, qualifying patients and their designated providers would not be subject to arrest if they possess no more than 15 cannabis plants and 24 ounces of cannabis.
As noted in the staff report on SB 5073 they must be registered with the Department of Health; post a copy of their authorization next to cannabis at their residence; and, in the case of designated providers, not have converted cannabis for personal use.
The bill says that health care professionals must have a documented relationship with the patient, complete a physical examination of the patient, document the terminal or debilitating medical condition in the patient’s medical record, and inform the patient of other options for treating the medical condition.
The physician’s practice cannot consist primarily of authorizing the medical use of cannabis, nor can the doctor advertise cannabis.
The bill creates three types of business licenses: for producers, processors and cannabis dispensaries.
Again, licensees are prohibited from advertising cannabis and any licensee who sells to unauthorized people is subject to a class C felony. With the state licensing and taxing the sale of medicinal marijuana, officials expect the program to generate an additional $3 million a year in revenue for the state.
The Department of Health will establish a secure registration system in which health care professionals may register qualifying patients.
Participation in the registry is voluntary for qualifying patients and their designated providers. Law enforcement officers must be able to consult the registry to verify whether a person or an address is registered.
The legislation also allows the University of Washington and Washington State University to conduct scientific research on the safety of administering cannabis as part of a medical treatment and the universities develop guidelines for the appropriate administration of cannabis.
The bill has undergone numerous revisions both in committee and with amendments on the Senate floor. It’s not perfect. The ban on advertising for state-licensed dispensaries certainly has free speech ramifications.
We agree with proponents of this bill who say that today many medicinal marijuana patients are simply confused as to whether they are following existing laws. Senate Bill 5073 brings clarity to today’s confused system. The legislation creates certainty for growers, processors, those who dispense cannabis and for patients and physicians, too.