As Washington's Legislative Session Ends, Medical Marijuana Changes Begin
By Jim Camden
A few hours before the gavel came down on the regular session, Gov. Jay Inslee signed one of the most-discussed laws, one that brings medical marijuana under much of the same state control and oversight as the newer recreational pot system.
Patients will have an optional registry, which will get them a state card and allow them to avoid some taxes. They'll be able to grow their own supplies, join small grower cooperatives and buy tested products at state stores.
"We will have options for patients and a system of strong enforcement to ensure public safety, especially for children," Inslee said as 6-year-old Haiden Day looked on from behind tinted glasses.
Ryan Day, his father, was a tireless advocate for protecting medical marijuana patients as the state tightens its laws and said the Cannabis Patient Protection Act means certainty for his son, who uses about an ounce a week of a special strain that is high in chemicals with calming effects, and low in the chemical that produces the euphoric high. The family decided to move from Virginia to Washington because of the state's medical marijuana rules. Pharmaceutical drugs failed to control Haiden's seizures, but he has experienced tremendous progress while using marijuana, Ryan Day said.
"We've been under the threat every single year that the state was going to take away the ability to help my son," Ryan Day said.
Resolving differences between the state's two marijuana systems was one of the more contentious issues of the session. Inslee called the law a "tremendous step forward" but added the Legislature should finish the job and pass a companion bill that levies the taxes that will raise the revenue to help the state support it and help some local communities accept it.
Inslee used a veto pen to pare off some parts of the bill that passed, removing some new felonies legislators proposed and a demand to remove medical marijuana from the state's drug schedule that classifies it as a drug with no legal use. The former are unnecessary and the latter is best handled by changing federal law, he said. He also vetoed a section that tied the bill that passed to the revenue package that has not passed.
In a sense, marijuana policy was a metaphor Friday for the regular session. Legislators accomplished some things but left others unfinished.
They did not do what any Legislature must in an odd-numbered year -- decide how to spend the state's money for the next two years. They must return next week to resume work on the operating, capital and ongoing transportation budgets, and they could agree to a separate transportation budget for new projects supported by gasoline tax increases.
But the just-finished regular session was not a total bust. Legislators did pass nearly 300 bills before grinding to a temporary halt Friday evening, some major, some seemingly minor -- although a legislative truism states every bill is important to somebody.
OIL TRAINS: They came up with a compromise on oil train safety in the final hours Friday, requiring emergency agencies to get advance notice before shipments roll across the state by train and extending a tax to the shipments to raise money for cleanup. Not enough money, said detractors, who noted it leaves out protections for the Puget Sound and doesn't require larger crews on oil trains. But it was rammed through both chambers with comments that it was at least part of a good idea that could be improved next year.
MEDICAL SCHOOL: Earlier in the session, legislators agreed on one of the most closely watched issues for Spokane: whether Washington State University would be able to start its own medical school in the city, where the University of Washington already operates an outpost of its multistate med school program known as WWAMI. After extensive hearings on various ways to get more doctors in parts of the state that don't have enough, they agreed to change a 1917 law that said only UW could have a state-sponsored medical school.
But that issue, too, is only partially done. The money for WSU to seek accreditation for its new school, and for UW to continue its Spokane program, remain unsettled in the various operating budget proposals. On a related medical education issue, a separate bill that set up a process to expand residencies for family practice doctors was approved.
PUBLIC SAFETY: Memorializing the victim of a tragedy in a title helped some bills. The Sheena Henderson Act, which requires notification of worried family members before police return guns they've seized from certain suspects, is named for a woman slain in a murder-suicide in Spokane last summer. Joel's Law, which allows a family member to petition the court for involuntary commitment for someone after a medical professional decides such detention isn't needed, is named for Joel Reuter, who was killed in a 2013 confrontation with Seattle police during what his parents said was a psychotic episode. Both have been sent to Inslee.
Law enforcement agencies were required to send sexual assault examination kits to the state crime laboratory within 30 days, and the lab was required to prioritize the exams for active investigations and cases with pending court dates.
ALCOHOL: Like most sessions, the Legislature made some changes to the state's complicated alcohol laws. It separated the emerging alcoholic cider industry from the well-established wine industry after complaints from cider makers that the fees they pay go to promote wine. Selling cider in microbrewery tasting rooms was also approved, as was sampling beer and wine at certain stores. Distilleries will be able to add mixers to their booze in tasting rooms.
After initially toying with the concept of regulating and taxing powdered alcohol -- a new product that will produce vodka or rum by adding water -- the Legislature reversed course and decided to ban it.
University students who aren't yet 21 but are studying some aspect of the wine business will be able to taste that product as part of a class under what came to be known as the "sip and spit" bill.
CONSUMERS: "Ticket bots" -- computer programs that can be used to snap up tickets to concerts and sporting events before the public has a chance to buy them, thus providing a market for people reselling them at a profit -- were outlawed.
COURTS: The state limit on jury service in Spokane and any county with at least 70,000 people was shortened from a month to two weeks.
SEX PREDATORS: Sexually violent predators will have a harder time being released from the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island if they don't participate in an annual examination conducted by the Department of Social and Health Services, which operates the facility.
Hundreds of other bills could become law in the special session that starts Wednesday, but they'll need to be reapproved by the most recent chamber that passed them before moving back into the legislative flow.
(c)2015 The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.)