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Seattle Lawmaker Pushes For Medical Marijuana Regulation: Take Two

Hansi Lo Wang

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire vetoed parts of a medical marijuana bill last week, but a Seattle legislator is still trying to resurrect a measure to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. Dispensaries are businesses that distribute marijuana to people who have authorization from their physician. KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang has more.


It's take two for State Senator Jeanne Kohl–Welles and her efforts to bring more regulation to medical marijuana use in Washington.

Kohl–Welles: "I believe very strongly that if we do not get another bill through the legislative session this year that we're placing more patients at risk."

The special legislative session in Olympia is scheduled to end later this month.

Kohl–Welles, a Seattle Democrat, sponsored the marijuana bill that was partially signed into law last week by Governor Gregoire. But here's why the governor vetoed part of it:

Gregoire: "I will not subject my state employees to federal prosecution. Period."

Kohl–Welles says she doesn't agree with the governor's rationale that federal authorities would prosecute state employees involved in state licensing of medical marijuana patients and their providers.

Kohl–Welles: "And it's all a hypothetical that they could do that. I think it's a long shot that that would ever happen. But that's where we are now in the state, so we will respect the governor's preference and be cognizant of her veto and come up with legislation to avoid state employee's involvement."

That's the challenge Kohl–Welles faces as she tries to slip in a new bill before the legislative deadline. And helping her craft that new bill are Seattle city officials.

John Schochet: "My name is John Schochet, and I'm with the Seattle City Attorney's Office."

Schochet says instead of the state giving dispensaries a license or formally authorizing their existence, state law could say —

Schochet: "Dispensaries can't do these things. As long as they don't do any of those things that they're not allowed to do, they're exempt from state criminal law."

That means dispensaries would be prohibited from, for example, opening close to a school or operating out of someone's house. Schochet admits the legislation would be left intentionally vague on what dispensaries can do.

Schochet: "From our perspective, active regulation is better. It would be a better way to run the system. But the governor said that she's not willing to sign a bill that does that. So this is a really a matter of figuring out if we can have a system that does some of what we think is necessary, even if it's not perfect."

Kohl–Welles says her new bill would allow each city to decide whether to allow medical marijuana dispensaries.

Whatever happens in Olympia, Schochet says Seattle will find a way for dispensaries to stay in the city.

Schochet: "We now have more than 50 dispensaries that we're aware of in Seattle, and if the state's not willing to step in and give us some help, Seattle will have to look at doing what it can on its own."

Schochet says the city basically has one tool to regulate marijuana dispensaries: zoning regulations. The city could change those to keep dispensaries out of certain areas. Other than that, officials say the legalities of dispensaries selling medical marijuana in Seattle are left to the county prosecutor to enforce.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

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