A cosmic shift in pot hearings?

January 24, 2015 | Kris Hermes

Jim Camden, The Spokesman-Review

If you live long enough, things that once seemed impossible will become common place.

Or so my grandfather told me. He was living proof of that: born before the Wright brothers flew, he lived to watch men walk on the moon, from his living room, on a device that he would have thought impossible for the first half of his life.

Most people have their “Who’d’ve thunk?” moments, usually with computers or some other technology. Using my grandfather as a yardstick, I probably would shrug it off if my next cell phone added making coffee and refilling the hummingbird feeder to the tasks my current model handles like shooting video, talking to satellites and allowing a face-to-face chat with my grandson from anywhere in the country.

But last week’s hearing in the Senate Health Care Committee on changes to the state’s medical and recreational marijuana laws offered moments I would have said could never happen when I started covering pot hearings nearly 40 years ago.

Time was, back in the day, when people calling for changes in the marijuana law – anything remotely resembling legalization – tended toward black leather or jeans and tie-dye. Almost no hearing went without someone with a ponytail telling a panel of suits they should end the prohibition on a god-given natural herb that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew on their plantations. (Historical footnote: Washington and Jefferson grew hemp; there’s no evidence they smoked pot.)

The suits would scowl, and eventually someone with a buzz cut would lecture someone with a ponytail about studies that show marijuana was a gateway to heroin or could lead behavior straight out of “Reefer Madness”. Most elected officials seemed intent on giving off the vibe that not only would they never dream of using marijuana, they’d disown any family member who did.

The result was always predictable: Nothing changed.

With Washington’s legalization of two kinds of marijuana, hearings on pot bills this year are practically indistinguishable from most other issues in the Legislature. There were still a few ponytails among the testifiers at Thursday’s hearing, although the hair in some tails was pretty gray. There were also men and women in natty business suits who described their marijuana growing, processing or selling operations in terms of, well, business.

There were marijuana patients who were disabled veterans, who received respectful “thank you for your service” tributes from committee members, and heart-warming stories of parents of small children who use the drug to control seizures. Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, closed the hearing with the observation that many senators were familiar with medical marijuana from using it or knowing someone who did, including her. “Not myself but my brother,” she added.

Also of note was the proliferation of marijuana-based interest groups, the pot lobby may be as big and fractured as any in Olympia. There were members of the Washington Cannabusiness Association, which represents recreational pot folks. That’s not to be confused with the Cannabis Action Coalition or the People for Medical Cannabis or Cause M or Americans for Safe Access, who represent some segment of the medical marijuana industry, and showed up, sometimes against positions the cannabiz folks were taking.

Witnesses talked of marijuana tinctures and oils and butters, chemical compounds and combinations. There was a discussion of whether to ban smokable flowers, which sponsor Ann Rivers, R-Vancouver, initially wanted. Not because it was marijuana but because it was smoke; patients argued this was the most efficient delivery system. “Who knew people would argue smoking is actually good for you?” she said later.

And no one once mentioned Washington or Jefferson grew pot. Who knew, indeed?



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