Medical marijuana deal remains elusive in Olympia


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Washington state lawmakers are struggling to broker a deal that would fully recognize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries that are already operating around the state.

Several senators proposed a new bill Tuesday that would leave it up to local jurisdictions to decide whether to regulate the distribution outlets. But some medical marijuana advocates immediately raised concerns, noting that it would force dispensaries into political battles all over the state.

"The point of this legislation was to end the conflict, not to ensure a whole new round of years of conflict," said Ezra Eickmeyer, political director of the Washington Cannabis Association.

Dispensaries are not specifically allowed nor forbidden under current state statutes, although that hasn't stopped them from popping up since voters approved a medical marijuana law in 1998.

Current state law does not allow for marijuana sales. It mandates that patients must grow it themselves or designate a caregiver to grow it for them.

Proponents of the law contend that patients with terminal or debilitating conditions do not have the ability or resources to grow marijuana, so they believe retail-like access is needed to prevent a black market.

Gov. Chris Gregoire recently vetoed a plan that would have provided statewide oversight. The state's two U.S. attorneys had warned that state employees involved in regulating the industry would not be immune from prosecution.

The governor said she couldn't leave state employees exposed to that possibility.

The latest proposal in the Senate would allow dispensaries - called "nonprofit patient cooperatives" - only if local jurisdictions opt in by approving an ordinance.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democrat from Seattle who is the lead sponsor of the bill, said Gregoire had indicated general support for the new plan. She acknowledged that the legislation was not perfect but at least tried to balance the demands of advocates, law enforcement and the governor's office.

"It's not my preference that we're doing it this way, but we're having to do it this way," she said.

The bill would also create a statewide registry of qualified medical marijuana patients. Lawmakers are scheduled to hear about the measure in committee Wednesday.
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