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Washington Legislative Update

By John Davis

This is the fifth in my series about understanding what is happening in the 2015 Washington State Legislative session and how to predict the business implications of what comes out of it. This is not a piece intended to comment on the content of the bills. This series has been written to guide you through the process and help you identify the important points to focus upon.

As stated in my last piece, SB 5052, the medical marijuana “fixer bill” was passed and was certified by the Secretary of the Senate on April 25th. I am using the word “marijuana” because references to cannabis in the bill were officially changed to marijuana. The “502” or recreational marijuana “fixer bill”, HB 2136, was stalled in special session. Since my last piece, HB 2136 was reintroduced by resolution on May 29 and retained in the present status. The bill now stands as the “Engrossed Second Substitute”.

As the overall budget for Washington State has not been resolved, on May 28 Governor Inslee called for a Second Special Session starting on the 29th of May and lasting until no later than July 1. HB 2136 is currently stuck in budget negotiations. HB 2136 is a good thing for legal cannabis because it fixes key provisions including the taxation. It becomes really important to patients and medical providers when you consider that the medical bill SB 5052 folds the recreational and commercial medicinal marijuana market places into a single system under the newly renamed Liquor and Cannabis Board.

The good news for HB 2136 is that the budget numbers the Senate is considering include the numbers from HB 2136 as a line item. There is bipartisan support for the bill even as some of the details are still being argued. My prediction is that the bill will be passed in, more or less, the form it is in now. I believe that the taxation rate for marijuana will be 37% rather than the original 30%. It is hard to say when it will pass but I believe it will be before June 20th. As this bill has become largely a budgetary political football, there is little that can be done to shape this bill in a meaningful way. The time to be effective on this particular bill is largely in the past. It is a budget discussion now. This seems to be a sit-and-wait moment.

While we wait for HB 2136, much is happening with SB 5052. Now that it has been signed into law, the rule making required by the law begins. There is much for the Liquor and Cannabis Board to do to get ready to move medical into a licensed system. What most people are not mentioning is that the Washington State Department of Health is tasked with a great deal of rule making. Even the Department of Revenue has some rule making obligations along with the board of naturopathy, the board of osteopathic medicine and surgery, the medical quality assurance commission, and the nursing care quality assurance commission.

This is the time to be effective in influencing the rules. This is a somewhat different skill than influencing a legislative body. Most people wait until the rules come out from the various authorities and then comment on them. It hasn’t been my experience that this is the most effective way of influencing the rules. Your best bet is to lobby the various agencies that may be handling aspects of the rule making that you would like influenced before the agencies have had a chance to really digest them. You will need to speak to the intent of the law and why your interpretation of the rules meets that intent. It must be well researched, well written and sane. I will add a link to my analysis of SB 5052 for information and to give you an idea of how this is done here. Make something that helps the employees of the agency do their job or at least brings up interesting and salient points. You want your work to be read by the guy that is doing the dirty work and putting the rules document together.

If you have interests in the City of Seattle, there is an Ordinance that will be considered by the City Council coming up this month. It will memorialize the SB 5052 language and allow Seattle to begin to close some of the unlicensed and nuisance cannabis businesses that have sprung up in the past few years. The documents are available through the clerk’s office. Good luck and remember, be effective!\

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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