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Senate sends medical marijuana bill to Gov. Chris Gregoire

Post by Katie Schmidt on April 21, 2011 at 1:05 pm |
April 21, 2011 1:37 pm

The state senate passed a bill on to Gov. Chris Gregoire today to license medical marijuana dispensaries despite threats from the governor that she’ll veto the measure.

In a 27-21 vote that divided both Democrats and Republicans, senators approved House amendments to Senate Bill 5073, forcing the governor to decide what to do with the controversial proposal.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill’s primary sponsor said the proposal was a well thought-out approach to a black-market problem in Washington.

“Patients need this, families of patients need this, communities need this, public safety mandates this,” said Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, during floor debate on the bill Thursday.

She said the Senate had considered meeting with the governor and representatives from the House to try to reach an agreement that the governor would approve, but with regular session ending Sunday, legislators ran out of time to make that happen.

The version of the bill that moved on to the governor would license medical marijuana dispensaries in the state, limit the number of them that can exist per county and provide set up a voluntary registry and some arrest protection for patients.

It’s meant to clear up a gray area in the voter-approved measure that legalized medical marijuana in Washington but left it unclear how patients can get the drug.

Now Gregoire will have to decide whether to veto the bill, veto parts of the bill or approve it.

She first voiced concern about the measure last week after receiving a letter from U.S. attorneys saying the federal government could prosecute people who participate in a state-authorized dispensary system despite a Justice Department memo saying federal prosecutors will not go after patients who use marijuana in compliance with state law.

“I will review the bill to determine any parts that can assist patients in need without putting state employees at risk,” said Gregoire in a statement about the proposal. “No state employee should have to break federal law in order to do their job.”

Kohl-Welles said she doubted that federal attorneys would actually prosecute any state workers for carrying out Senate Bill 5073 if it becomes law, and she thought the governor would take some time to think about her position on the bill before vetoing it outright.

Seven other states and Washington D.C. all authorize dispensaries in some form, Kohl-Welles said, and the Justice Department hasn’t prosecuted people for carrying out the laws.

Some Democrats and Republicans who opposed the measure on the Senate floor argued that the proposal would  contribute to drug abuse by people who aren’t really sick and clash with federal law.

“This is unfortunately not about medical marijuana anymore; this has been converted to a bill that is on the brink of legalization of marijuana for anybody and everybody,” said Sen. Mike Carrell, a Lakewood Republican who voted against the bill.

The proposal picked up support from some Republicans, though, including Sen. Jerome Delvin, a co-sponsor of the measure. He said Washington should assert its states rights on the issue and it would make marijuana use easier for law enforcement to handle.

Kohl-Welles said she hadn’t considered whether to look for the votes to override a veto if the governor won’t approve the bill.

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