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Governor vetoes most of medical marijuana bill

The governor struck sections legalizing dispensaries and imposing standards on the quality of medical cannabis.

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By Jerry Cornfield
Herald Writer
Published:
OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a ground-breaking expansion of the state's medical marijuana law Friday, saying the bill would have put state workers at risk of arrest by federal authorities.
Gregoire crossed out sections that would have legalized marijuana dispensaries and had state health and agricultural employees regulating the quality and potency of cannabis produced for patients.
What she left in the bill and signed will expand protections for patients and, for the first time, spell out the amount of marijuana that patients can grow on their own or collectively with others.
"It is a much pared-down bill," she said. "I don't want to mislead anybody, but I have left what I could."
Gregoire's action surprised no one. She has become increasingly concerned that workers would be put in a position of breaking federal drug laws when carrying out the state law as passed by the Legislature.
She's become focused on the matter since U.S. Attorneys Jenny Durkan of Seattle and Mike Ormsby of Spokane laid out the prospects in a letter to her earlier this month.
"I will not subject my state employees to federal prosecution, period," the governor said. "I think that's irresponsible on my part. That is the clear reason for what I've done today."
She said she's willing to work in the remaining days of the special session on a bill addressing a few of the vetoed items. And she wants to try to get federal authorities to reclassify marijuana from a controlled substance, or Schedule I, to a narcotic on the Schedule II list so it can be made available by prescription.
"I believe these patients are entitled to protection, and I want them to have medicinal marijuana that they need," she said. "I want it done right and not at the expense of putting state employees at risk of federal prosecution."
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, the bill's sponsor, expressed disappointment in the governor's action and disagreed with her assessment of the threat to state workers.
"I believe the risk of this happening is low," she said, "while the loss of many of the bill's key provisions means tens of thousands of qualifying patients will continue to have difficulty accessing a legal, safe, secure and reliable source of the medicine" they need.
The American Civil Liberties Union sent Gregoire a letter Thursday seeking to convince her that federal authorities had made an empty threat -- that they had never arrested state workers carrying out a medical marijuana law elsewhere and wouldn't do so in Washington.
The arguments didn't sway Gregoire.
"It is very disappointing," said Shankar Narayan, ACLU's legislative director. "The Legislature stepped up. It's unfortunate the governor didn't step up and sign the bill."
Voters in 1998 approved Initiative 692, allowing use of marijuana for medical purposes by patients with a terminal or debilitating medical condition as diagnosed by a health care professional.
But the initiative didn't answer a lot of questions, like how patients might obtain marijuana for medication if they didn't grow it themselves. It doesn't account for the arrival of dispensaries that are growing and distributing marijuana.
This year, lawmakers hammered out Senate Bill 5073 as a sweeping solution to many problems encountered since the initiative's passage. It passed the Senate on a 29-20 vote and the House by a 54-43 margin.
One of the bigger changes in the newly signed revised law: A qualifying patient may grow cannabis for their own use, or designate a provider to grow it on their behalf, or participate in a collectively run garden with up to nine other patients.
Patients can possess up to 15 marijuana plants and 24 ounces of usable cannabis on their own, and there can be up to 45 plants at a shared garden under the new law.
Gregoire's partial veto Friday leaves cities and counties without the clarity they had sought as to how to deal with dispensaries.
Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace and Granite Falls adopted moratoriums on dispensaries earlier this year. They did so with an eye on the Legislature, where it seemed uniform guidelines for approving and regulating dispensaries might be developed.
Gregoire said local government leaders she spoke with were split on the bill, with some wanting it vetoed and others wanting it signed.
She wound up deleting a section that would have barred local governments from keeping dispensaries out. That preserves their power to deal with them on their own, she said.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.
What the governor left in
Here's what Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a speech explaining her veto of portions of the revised marijuana law:
"I have kept sections of the bill that preserve Initiative 692's affirmative defense from state prosecution for patients and those who assist them with the medical use of marijuana.
"I have kept sections of the bill that provide additional state law protection from civil and criminal penalties.
"Parental rights may not be restricted solely due to the medical use of cannabis without showing impairment in the performance of parenting functions.
"Qualifying patients may not be denied an organ transplant solely because of medical marijuana use.
"Medical marijuana patients and their providers may grow cannabis for their own use, designate a provider to grow on their behalf, or participate in a collective garden with other qualifying patients without fear of state criminal prosecutions."
Story tags » GovernorLegislatureMedicines

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