Senate passes bill to reconcile medical marijuana market with recreational sector

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Sen. Ann Rivers speaks in support of her bill that seeks to reconcile Washington state's medical marijuana industry with its heavily taxed recreational sector, Friday, Feb. 13, 2015, in Olympia, Wash. The bill seeks to create a patient registry and do away with medical dispensaries and replace them with smaller patient collectives. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)


Sens. Ann Rivers, seated, Steve Litzow, middle, and Mark Schoesler watch a bill amendment vote count on her computer in Olympia, Wash. on on Friday, Feb. 13, 2015. Rivers sponsored a bill passed by the Senate on Friday that seeks to reconcile Washington state's medical marijuana industry with its heavily taxed recreational sector. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)


OLYMPIA, Washington — A measure seeking to reconcile Washington state's medical marijuana industry with its heavily taxed recreational sector passed the Washington state Senate on Friday.

Senate Bill 5052 passed on a bipartisan 36-11 vote and now heads to the House for consideration. It is one of several measures brought forth by lawmakers this year after efforts to address the dual markets died in the House last session.

"The Senate sent a strong and clear message to the people of this state today that we're taking this issue seriously and we're going to keep working on it for the safety of our patients and the safety of our children," Republican Sen. Ann Rivers of La Center, who sponsored the bill, said after the vote. "There's tremendous will to get this done. We have got to get rid of the gray and black market."

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.

Among its many provisions, the bill passed Friday would create a database of patients, who would 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. It would also exempt patients from paying sales tax on medical products.

The measure 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 15 miles of a licensed pot retailer.

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 under the bill — 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.

The board would also raise its previously stated limit on marijuana retailers — 334 statewide — to accommodate the medical industry.

Several amendments failed, including one by Democratic Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Seattle that would have allowed all adults 21 or older to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. Another amendment by Kohl-Welles — who has a separate bill addressing the two marijuana markets — that would have removed the registry aspect of the bill also failed. She called the registry an infringement of patients' privacy.

"What I am most concerned about is that patients have an adequate, a safe, a secure supply of the medicine that works for them without government intrusion and without a new bureaucracy being developed," she said.


Johnson reported from Seattle.

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