Washington State Update: Moving Forward to Guarantee Safe Access for Patients

Last Friday, Governor Inslee signed, and partially vetoed, Senate Bill 5052, titled the “Cannabis Patient Protection Act.” Americans for Safe Access and our members worked the legislative process every step of the way. It was a hard slog, and we didn’t get everything we wanted (not even the bill we wanted). 

I am committed to ensuring a system that serves patients well and makes medicine available in a safe and accessible manner, just like we would do for any medicine.” – Governor Jay Inslee, April 27, 2015

That said, due to your activism the final result was much better for patients than many expected. We now have the opportunity to build a medical cannabis system in Washington shaped by stakeholders, including medical experts, patients, and industry leaders dedicated to patient health.

Improvements from what we saw in November to the bill signing on April 27, 2015 include:

  • A proposed ban on inhaled whole plant products was scrapped early on due to the vocal outcry from the health care community
  • Licenses will be available for stand-alone medical dispensaries, and leaders in the industry who have been building expertise and providing quality products will have a clear, merit-based path to get licensed
  • Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) were added to the qualifying condition list, due in large part to outstanding work by the Veterans community
  • Consistent messaging about the importance of affirmative defense led to basic legal protections being retained for qualifying patients who choose not to register
  • Requirements on doctors to specify amounts and types of medication, which would violate a U.S. Supreme Court decision, were removed
  • Cannabis Health and Beauty Aids (HABA) were defined in the legal lexicon for the first time ever and completely removed from the State’s Controlled Substances Act
  • Buffer zone between cooperatives and marijuana retailers reduced from 25 miles to one mile
  • After the bill passed, Governor Inslee stood strong to make sure that a cooperative option was preserved for patients

During the bill signing, Governor Inslee announced his veto of a few sections, including removing the removal of new felonies the bill created.  Since the spirit of Initiative 692 in 1998 was to stop criminalizing the use of medical cannabis, ASA was heartened to see that change. Check out the Governor’s veto and signing statement from Friday here.

5052 is complicated with many moving (and missing) parts. To help clarify what will change for patients, Governor Inslee has posted a FAQ on SB 5052 (Cannabis Patient Protection Act) on his website. It clearly covers the issues that patients are most worried about, such as preserving affirmative defense, which keeps the registry voluntary, and providing a reasonable timeline and framework for patient providers to transition from the current collective garden model to licensed dispensaries and patient cooperatives. We appreciate Governor Inslee’s recognition that for the law to truly be a “Cannabis Patient Protection Act,” a lot more work is still needed. That work starts now.

Americans for Safe Access will be on the ground to make sure that the rulemaking process is patient-focused and medically driven. We’ll also be fighting for additional legislative improvements in the next legislative session. And we’ll be working to make sure that policymakers around Washington state hear directly from you: the patients who need to access their medicine each and every day. Talking to you and hearing your story is the best way legislators learn, and we’re excited to connect you with them.

So, what’s next? Another bill, House Bill 2136, contains a PARTIAL tax exemption (sales & use tax) for patients who register. But it leaves in a 37% excise tax on medical cannabis patients. We know that steep tax will harm patient access, and we’re making sure legislators are getting that message as Special Session convenes in Olympia today. Thank you if you already took action to ask the Senate to exempt patients from the excise tax.  If you haven’t taken action yet, click here.

I call on the medical cannabis community to take this opportunity to step up, get involved, and work with the Governor’s office, Department of Health, Liquor and Cannabis Board, and other stakeholders to make a system that protects patients. The work that will happen in the next eight months will shape our future.

With your help, the vision of a brighter 2017 in Washington State is possible. Let’s get started.

FAQ: http://www.governor.wa.gov/issues/issues/safe-communities/cannabis-patient-protection-act-faq

Gov’s signing/veto statement: https://crmpublicwebservice.des.wa.gov/bats/attachment/vetomessage/c37d74e7-ddea-e411-8e68-005056ba1e68