Medical marijuana bills dead, but efforts to create a cohesive system will continue

Conor King Devitt, The Oregonian

An effort to resolve differences in how Washington regulates medical and recreational marijuana will continue despite the death of legislation intended to accomplish that goal, a House Republican said.

Rep. Cary Condotta, R-East Wenatchee, said the state will convene a task force to figure out the issues of combining the medical marijuana system with the upcoming recreational marketplace. Senate Bill 5887, which would have added regulations and licensing to the state’s largely unregulated medical market, died in the House late Thursday due to a partisan revenue dispute that was unresolved at adjournment of the 60-day 2014 legislative session.

“We were hoping to be working on implementation at this point as opposed to working from square one again,” said Kari Boiter, the Washington coordinator for the national medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access.

An August 2013 memorandum from the U.S. Justice Department said it would not fight marijuana legalization in states that create “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems that will address the threat those state laws could pose to public safety, public health and other law enforcement interests.” 

Initiative 502, which Washington voters approved in November 2012, regulates sales of recreational marijuana much like sales of liquor. The state’s regulation of medical marijuana use, meanwhile, amounts to requiring a patient to obtain a doctor’s note.

Boiter said she is very concerned with what she considers a looming threat of federal intervention on a system the federal government has warned is untenable.

Boiter also said she is worried that medical marijuana patients might get cut off from the medicine they need at the local level. The city of Seattle has already informed medical dispensaries that without state licensing they will need to shut down by January of 2015.

Senate Bill 6542, which would have formed a task force to study how to create a cohesive recreational and medical system , also died in the House late Thursday as the Washington legislative session came to a close.

But Condotta said parties interested in action on the issue would convene a task force on their own.

Condotta seemed unconcerned with the risk of federal action, saying federal authorities have “have bigger fish to fry”.

The federal government has said the state of Washington will need to demonstrate it is working to improve its current medical marijuana regulatory system.