Politics & Government

New pot law brings uncertainty

OLYMPIA — Gov. Chris Gregoire’s decision to veto key parts of a bill regulating medical marijuana in Washington has left the state with a patchwork system of oversight that is mystifying patients, providers and the cities in which they live.

New medical marijuana rules are perhaps the most contentious – and confusing – in a batch of new state laws set to take effect today. Dozens of laws approved by the Legislature will alter how the state handles everything from public records to domestic partnerships to drunken driving convictions.

Laura Healy, of Green Hope Patient Network in Shoreline, said she still doesn’t know what her medical marijuana operation will look like under the new law. She’s transitioning to a collective garden organization, the format approved under Gregoire’s law, but has a variety of lingering questions that will determine how many patients she can help and how easy it will be to provide them with marijuana.

Lawyers are helping Healy assess her options.

“I don’t even think Gregoire understands what she put in (the law),” Healy said. “She kind of left us with, ‘OK, now what?’ Now we’re trying to figure it all out. And it’s a big mess.”

Complicating matters for Healy is that Shoreline officials voted Wednesday to place a moratorium on medical marijuana operations. She hopes to have some sort of system today but doesn’t know what it will look like.

Several jurisdictions have been pressing ahead with moratoriums on the collective gardens, triggering further confusion. Seattle, meanwhile, voted this week to start taxing and licensing medical marijuana operations like any other business, drawing praise from some activists and the threat of a lawsuit from another who contends cities don’t have the authority to regulate the industry.

The uncertainty comes after lawmakers worked for months on a plan that would help clear up the state’s medical marijuana laws. The Legislature approved a plan that would have created a system to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries.

But Gregoire, citing fears that state workers could face federal prosecution for participating in the licensing scheme, vetoed much of it.

The remaining parts of the law allow collective marijuana grows with up to 45 plants, serving up to 10 patients. But some have noted that the law is unclear how many collective gardens can be located on a single tax parcel or whether the 10-patient rule can be stretched by having patients only participate in the gardens for brief periods of time.

Alison Holcomb, drug policy director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said while the law leaves plenty of gray area, it also does provide at least some help to patients. Instead of growing marijuana themselves or finding a designated provider, the patients can now band together in the collective gardens to share the costs, space and work to maintain them.

Still, she’s leading the organization of a new initiative that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state. Holcomb said Gregoire’s veto added extra urgency to the idea.