The Columbian / Associated Press

Bills to sync marijuana rules pass

OLYMPIA — The Washington state House moved forward Friday on an effort to reconcile the state’s medical and recreational marijuana industries.

The chamber first passed a Senate measure addressing the medical side before moving on to a House bill dealing with the recreational law. Because the Senate bill was amended in the House, it will head back to the full Senate for a final concurrence vote, while the House bill will go first to a Senate committee for consideration.

Senate Bill 5052 passed on a bipartisan 60-36 vote after a long debate over several amendments, including over whether patients should have to sign up on a registry.

“No one has taken the idea of medical marijuana lightly,” said Rep. Eileen Cody, a Democrat from Seattle. “What we’re trying to make sure is that we have a medical marijuana system that fits with recreational, is safe and provides the safety mechanisms for our patients that recreational enjoys. We also want to make sure that everyone has access.”

Among its many provisions, the Senate measure, sponsored by Republican Sen. Ann Rivers, would create a database of patients. Changes made in the House include making voluntary the patient registry that was mandatory under the Senate version. However, unregistered patients wouldn’t be allowed to possess the same amounts of marijuana or enjoy similar tax breaks that registered patients would.

Under the amended version, if a patient is entered into the database and holding an authorization card, they will be allowed to possess three times as much marijuana as is allowed under the recreational law: 3 ounces dry, 48 ounces of marijuana-infused solids, 216 ounces liquid, and 21 grams of concentrates. They could also grow up to six plants at home, unless authorized to receive more by a health professional.

If they don’t get an authorization card but are considered a qualified patient, their limit is the same as the recreational limits of one ounce, however, they’d be allowed to grow up to four plants and possess up to six ounces from those plants. Another change in the House moves the registration process from a doctor’s office to a retail location.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, a Republican from Kalama, said he was concerned that the legislation was leaving “more and more medical patients behind.”

“I’m concerned we have limited it too far,” he said. “We have limited it to the point to where some of those people aren’t going to be able to get the right form or the right variety for what they need.”

The passage of Initiative 502 in 2012 allowed the sale of marijuana to adults for recreational use at licensed stores, which started opening last summer. Recreational businesses have complained that they’re being squeezed by medical dispensaries that have proliferated in many parts of the state, providing lesser- or untaxed alternatives to licensed recreational stores.

Senate Bill 5052 would crack down on collective gardens, eliminating the current collective garden structure starting July 1, 2016, but allowing four-patient “cooperatives.” The cooperatives would be limited to a maximum of 60 plants, and the location of the collective would have to be registered with the state, and couldn’t be within one mile of a licensed pot retailer. The original Senate bill would have had that distance at 15 miles.

But it would also provide an avenue for existing collective gardens to stay in business, by requiring the state Liquor Control Board — which would be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board — to adopt a merit-based system for granting marijuana licenses. Among the factors that could be considered are whether the applicant previously operated a collective garden, had a business license or paid business taxes.

Rivers said she would encourage her colleagues in the Senate to concur with the House changes.

“I’m anxious to get this bill to the governor as soon as possible,” she said in an email after the vote.

The House measure addressing the recreational industry, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Reuven Carlyle, passed on a 67-28 vote. It calls for eliminating the three-tier tax structure voters approved in Initiative 502 and replacing it with a single excise tax of 30 percent at the point of sale that everyone would have to pay, both patients and recreational users. However, under the bill, patients who are in the registry and have an authorization card would be exempt from sales tax on their purchases. Carlyle’s bill would take effect only if the Senate’s medical marijuana bill also becomes law. That’s to encourage a coordinated approach to the recreational and medical systems, ranging on issues from taxes to zoning, he said during the debate.

The House bill also diverts a share of potential tax revenue from the state’s new recreational system to cities and counties. An amendment that passed would only allow local bans on licensed marijuana businesses if approved by the jurisdiction’s voters.

“A well-regulated system is appropriate, it is necessary,” Carlyle said.