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Washington State Cannabis Legislative Update: What Bills You Need to Pay Attention To

By John Davis

Before I begin my update, I want to say that I’m simply reporting on the movement and strategy of the legislative process. In my 20 years of watching legislation move, I have yet to see the perfect bill. My intent with these updates is to give business professionals insight on how the Legislature is likely to change the playing field this session.

The devil is, of course, in the details. There are a number of details in these bills which serve to inflame a ton of passion from many sides. Right now, I am strictly seeking to give insight.

The Washington legislative sessions are always very dynamic, and this year has not been any different.

In the last Legislative update, I referenced two bills in particular — SB 5052 and HB 1461. Of course, 5052 passed the Senate 36-11 on Feb. 13 on a bi-partisan vote and moves to the House of Representatives. The deal that was struck amongst lawmakers was that the Senate is going to address medical cannabis and the House was to address “I-502,” Washington’s recreational adult use law.

Making legislative changes to I-502

I-502 was an initiative to the Legislature that was passed with a popular vote of the people. Washington’s laws do not allow for the Legislature to change initiative language with a simple majority for two years after passage. A change to initiative language takes a two-thirds majority vote. Although some non-controversial technical issues have been addressed previous to this session, this is the first session that the Legislature can make changes by simple majority.

HB 1461 was the intended vehicle to change I-502 in the House. The bill was dropped by Christopher Hurst, D-31st, who, of course, assigned it to his own committee for first reading. Rep. Hurst is the Chair of the House Commerce & Gaming Committee, which among other things, provides oversight to the Liquor Control Board. Senate Bill 5052 renames the Liquor Control Board the “Liquor and Cannabis Board.”

The problem with HB 1461 was its attempt to combine 18 marijuana bills into one omnibus bill. Most agree that the way that these bills were stitched together was anything but artful. While there are a number of conflicting reports about how it happened, the important thing to know is that 1461 died in committee.

After the death of 1461, Rep. Reuven Carlyle, D-36th, quickly dropped HB 2136. The committee that will hear the first reading is the House Finance Committee of which, of course, Carlyle is chair. The bill is “title only,” meaning there is no content to the bill; it is merely a placeholder. Language will be dropped into it that we assume will be similar to the Hurst substitute bill which was never dropped and is therefore unavailable for review.

Rep. Carlyle had already dropped HB 2008 for a first reading in the Finance Committee. HB 2008 is titled “Concerning comprehensive marijuana tax reform to ensure a well-regulated and taxed marijuana market in Washington,” and it mostly deals with taxes. The co-sponsors are Hurst, D-31st; Sharon Wylie, D-49th; Gary Condotta, R-12th; Eileen Cody, D-34th; Steve Tharinger, D-24th; Ross Hunter, D-48th; Ruth Kagi, D-32nd; and, Chris Reykdal, D-22nd. Consensus in the capital says that this bill will get co-opted into HB 2136.

Clarity on legislation is coming

All bills needed to clear a subcommittee before Friday Feb. 20 or they will be dead unless they are determined to be “necessary to implement the budget” (NTIB). Due to the revenue provided in the taxation, this bill, even though it does not yet exist, is being considered NTIB. It therefore becomes imperative for the viability of the bill that HB 2008 (which has the budget component) be co-opted into 2136, the title-only bill.

There appears to be an alliance (of sorts) between Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-1st; Cary Condotta; Christopher Hurst; and Reuven Carlyle, to push ahead on HB 2136 when it is dropped. Carlyle’s committee will be the first hurdle to watch. It is very likely to move quickly through the committee that the prime sponsor chairs. In addition, five of the committee members are sponsors of 2008.

The bill to be dropped is likely to change the 25 percent tax on the producer, 25 percent on the processor, and 25 percent taxation on the retailer, and collapse it to:

  • 30 percent taxation;
  • Change the distance requirements for licensed cannabis businesses;
  • Make a popular vote necessary for a locality to ban cannabis businesses;
  • Allow for non-licensed cannabis to be seized and sold by law enforcement at auction;
  • Allow for third party transport of cannabis; and,
  • Establish a law enforcement task-force for non-licensed, commercial cannabis eradication.

Things should be clearer come Monday (Feb. 23) when many of the dropped bills will have not survived committee. The bills to pay the most attention to are SB 5052 and HB 2136. I am hoping to delve into the content of the bills as we progress through the session, unless something unusual happens during the sub-committee process which, as we saw with Hurst’s bill, often does.

John Davis

John Davis

For the past 20 years, John Davis has fought in the trenches and with his wallet and business interests (not to mention sticking his neck out nationally!) to work diligently to end prohibition in his home state, Washington and on a national level. In addition to being the Chairman of Seattle Hempfest, John is a founding member of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, a board and founding member of the NCIA and a leading policy expert working on international cannabis policy reform.

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