Legislators wade through the ‘wild, wild west’ to fix pot laws

OLYMPIA — A little more than two years after voters legalized the sale of regulated marijuana, lawmakers will wade through a thicket of cannabis-related measures, including merging the recreational and medical industries.

“Right now I call it the wild, wild west,” Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said during Thursday’s annual Associated Press legislative preview. “We’ve got incongruities in this law that we need to solve.”

Seven cannabis-related bills were to be introduced Monday as lawmakers convened the 2015 session. The possible impacts range from subtle to sweeping.

Two bills take aim at problems with having a state-regulated recreational system and a largely unchecked industry of dispensaries serving medical-marijuana users.

Sen. Brian Hatfield, D-Pacific County, and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, have teamed up on Senate Bill 5052, which would require medical dispensaries to exclusively sell edibles and marijuana concentrates, rather than the dry, smokeable cannabis they sell today.

But S.B. 5052 stands in direct opposition to a bill Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is expected to file. It would fold the medical marijuana system into the structure created by voters when they approved Initiative 502 in 2012. The Kohl-Welles bill also would reduce taxes and allow the average consumer to privately grow up to six plants.

The competing bills reveal differing views of how to incorporate medical dispensaries into the retail system authorized by voters.

Gov. Jay Inslee has said he is open to aspects of both bills and will work with sponsors and other lawmakers to find the best solution.

“The most important thing is to come up with a legally sanctioned, safe system for medical-marijuana users,” he said Thursday.

Hatfield and Rivers are also co-sponsors of Senate Bill 5003, which would raise the excise tax on cannabis from 25 percent to 26 percent.

A bill co-sponsored last year by Rep. Sherry Appleton, D-Poulsbo, is getting reintroduced.

House Bill 1020, dubbed the “Ric Smith Memorial Act,” would prohibit medical professionals from determining a patient’s eligibility for an organ transplant based solely on their use of medical cannabis.

The bill is named for the Seattle pot activist who died in 2012 from kidney dialysis complications after doctors denied his request for a transplant, unsure of how his heavy marijuana consumption would affect the success of the procedure. But the bill would also protect medical patients from being evicted from homes because of cannabis use, particularly if the property owner already permits tobacco use.

In the meantime, Rivers has sponsored Senate Bill 5002, which seeks to stop stoned driving by making it a traffic infraction to drive while an unsealed container of cannabis is present in the car — whether it’s the driver’s or not. The law would require that any amount of cannabis being transported be sealed, with the original contents intact.

Those with pre-existing marijuana misdemeanors could get some relief if House Bill 1041 is enacted. It would allow people to apply to have those convictions wiped from their records if they were over 21 when the offense was committed. Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, D-Burien, is re-introducing the bill after he came up short last year.

Finally, Hatfield and Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, are sponsoring Senate Bill 5012 to try to kick-start a hemp industry in Washington. The bill would give Washington State University researchers an August 2016 deadline to determine if and how such an industry could be properly established.

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