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BY JORDAN SCHRADER The News Tribune
Police and sheriffs want Gov. Jay Inslee to veto permission for group grows of medical marijuana.
Washington state law today allows “collective gardens,” which were envisioned as a way for small groups of patients to pool their pot but are being used to help justify unlicensed medical-marijuana storefronts.
A bill passed last week by the Legislature would offer the shops a chance to be licensed and eliminate the remaining collectives in mid-2016.
The proposal would keep the concept of group gardens alive as “cooperatives,” which would be tightly regulated and strictly limited to four patients each.
The home-based cooperatives could have as many as 60 plants and 72 ounces — 4 1/2 pounds — of marijuana. That’s the same ounce limit collective gardens are supposed to obey today.
The new law would maintain a gray area when police would like the state to clearly distinguish between the legal market at state-licensed stores and the black market everywhere else, said James McMahan, policy director for the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
“Draw a bright line,” McMahan suggested, so “we know when it’s legal and when it’s not.”
An advocate for medical-marijuana patients said patients need to be able to form cooperatives. Some might live in cities or counties that ban the stores, Americans for Safe Access founder Steph Sherer said. If there is a nearby store, she said, it might not have the strain or dosage needed by that patient.
And state-taxed marijuana might not be affordable in the large amounts patients need, Sherer said.
“Most people take their medication four to six times a day,” she said. “The same is true for a medical cannabis user.”
She said there would be restrictions — too many, in her view — that will keep the cooperatives in check.
The cooperatives’ members would have to be registered in a state patient database created by the bill. Its roster of members could change only every two months. Its location would have to be registered with state regulators and be at least a mile from any marijuana store. The marijuana would be subject to state inspections and tracking.
“Honestly, this patient cooperative language that we ended up with in (the bill) seems to have been developed based on law-enforcement talking points,” Sherer said.
In a letter to Inslee, the sheriffs and police chiefs asked the Democratic governor to strike cooperatives from Senate Bill 5052, which he is expected to sign Friday or Saturday.
“Washington’s experience permitting marijuana to be grown or sold outside of a well regulated state licensing system has proven to be unacceptable,” WASPC executive director Mitch Barker wrote in the letter.
Inslee hasn’t signaled what he plans to do on that or other veto requests, including a request by Americans for Safe Access to veto the whole bill or at least a few parts such as imposing tighter restrictions on medical providers.
Unless he performs major surgery on the bill, as then-Gov. Chris Gregoire did the last time the Legislature passed a medical-marijuana overhaul in 2011, patients will continue to have the option to grow at home without becoming a member of cooperative.
Outside of a cooperative, patients or those they designate to grow for them could have up to four plants and 6 ounces of marijuana at home if they have the proper medical authorization.
If they also choose to join the new registry, they could have as many as 15 plants and 16 ounces at home.