Thriving state marijuana market gets potful of legislative attention

  • Friday, February 24, 2017 5:10pm
  • News

By Tim Gruver/WNPA Olympia News Bureau

A number of bills in the Washington Legislature could change the way people buy, sell and grow marijuana.

The bills received hearings this week in the House Committee on Commerce and Gaming with a wide range of proposals and opinions. Marijuana became a legal commodity in the state on July 8, 2014, one of few states at that time to legalize the plant for public use. It remains an illegal substance within the federal legal framework.

Bringing marijuana to your door

You could be buying marijuana in your pajamas thanks to a new bill that would allow delivery services straight to your door.

HB 1712 allows licensed marijuana retailers to fulfill orders by phone or online for users age 21 and up. Current law allows marijuana purchases only at brick-and-mortar stores.

An opponent said such purchases would compromise customer and employee safety by encouraging transactions in insecure locations.

“So what this bill does is take away the walls, it takes away the witnesses, it takes away the cameras and the security protocols and any sort of alarms,” said John Kingsbury, a member of medical-marijuana advocacy group Patients United. “I have to think that the first kid that gets stabbed, or shot, or beaten, you’re going to feel a little bit responsible for that. If this isn’t a recipe for disaster, I don’t know what is.”

Bill sponsor Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma, believes the measure’s risk to users is minimal and that increasing access to marijuana is critical to undermining black-market distributors.

Sawyer said the state Liquor and Cannabis Board would have to figure out how much one driver can carry. “Our whole goal is that we’re taking down the black market, the cartels, and that we’re running a safe, legal market. We want to compete on convenience and a fair price point.”

Licensing homegrown pot

Medical marijuana patients looking to grow a cannabis crop at home may receive some help: HB 2021 licenses adult medical marijuana users to grow and possess unlimited marijuana seeds at their residence.

Current law enables medical marijuana patients listed in the state’s medical marijuana authorization database to buy and possess up to six marijuana plants and eight ounces of marijuana produced from those plants. Patients not in the database may grow up to four marijuana plants and possess up to six ounces.

“This bill closes a gap and it’s important that we close this gap, because there are folks who qualify to have marijuana plants, but they don’t have access to them,” said Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle.

“This bill is very important because there are a lot of people out there who can no longer get plants because dispensaries closed that used to sell clones and seeds,” medical marijuana patient Laurie Jackson told a House committee.

Kirk Ludden, a lobbyist for the marijuana advocacy group Viper PAC, noted the state’s initial efforts to legalize cannabis did not adequately guarantee medical marijuana patients like himself access to seeds or plant clones, which helps users save money.

“It was a mishap that it was left out that patients could not even find a place to get their seeds and clones,” Ludden said. “Many people are not experienced growers and can very easily have that male plant seed for the entire crop. You could have 100 seeds and now you’re a felon.”

Viper PAC director John Novak stated the bill benefits medical marijuana growers disgruntled with the retail industry’s red tape. Medical marijuana patients licensed to distribute must also register with the marijuana traceability system and file daily reports related to the production, transportation and sale of marijuana.

“I don’t like the idea of having to go into a retail shop and not know whether I was put into the registry, the traceability system, or what,” Novak said. “We’re much better off going straight to the growers than the middle man at the retail level.”

Protecting hemp growers

The word cannabis brings to mind images of burning joints or smoldering bongs, but the plant has just as much to do with hemp products as it does with marijuana.

Industrial hemp is found in thousands of household products, including paper, textiles and health foods.

Under the federal Uniform Controlled Substances Act of 1970, marijuana is classified as a schedule one substance, or a drug with a high risk of abuse with no accepted medical use.

HB 2064 removes industrial hemp from the state’s schedule of controlled substances.

Federal law defines marijuana as a cannabis strain containing 0.3 percent or more of the psychoactive chemical component THC. Industrial hemp, which is unrelated to drug usage, contains less than 0.3 percent of THC.

In 2016, Washington created an industrial hemp research program under the Department of Agriculture to study the growth, cultivation and marketing of industrial hemp. At least 30 states have industrial hemp research programs, studies or commercial programs.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matt Shea, R-Spokane, spoke about the importance of removing hemp from the state’s drug schedule to better combat future federal suits against hemp farmers.

“The whole reason that Washington had to adopt a separate controlled substances act was because Washington State has separate jurisdiction from the federal government on this issue,” Shea said. This bill intends to “make it very clear that Washington, right now, is removing hemp from the scheduling act, so it gives us better legal grounds to defend against any sort of federal intrusion later to prosecute people growing hemp here,” he added.

Marijuana activist John Worthington urged the Legislature to remove all varieties of cannabis from the state drug schedule. Ending cannabis’s status as a controlled substance, Worthington argued, would curb the federal government’s ability to seize imports under the federal Interstate Commerce Clause should newly installed U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions decide to further challenge state cannabis laws.

Bailey Hershberg of the state marijuana advocacy group NORML PAC believes encouraging hemp farming in the state could have a positive environmental impact through crop rotation.

HB 1712, 2021 and HB 2064 were all passed out of committee by a majority vote and await further deliberation by the House Rules and House Appropriations committees this week.

(This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Reach reporter Tim Gruver at timgruver92@gmail.com).

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