HB-2336 and Washington State Legislators’ Plan to Change Marijuana Laws

A new bill introduced in the Washington state senate would change the current ability of cities, towns, and counties to prohibit the sale, production, or processing of marijuana by ordinance without a public vote.

Washington’s 29th District Representative David Sawyer, one of bill’s creators, said, “We are seeing areas with outright bans being controlled by the black market [which] ultimately defeats the purpose of controlling marijuana in our state. It’s become a lot like when the mob had control of liquor during prohibition and it’s up to us to stop it. The only way that can happen is if we seize control.”

Sawyer continued, “Another concern is the ability [of] medical patients to get the medicine they need in those areas. There are numerous areas of our state and actually other states in the contry where marijuana is now legal where local jurisdictions have a complete ban. And patients are either having to travel long distances to get it or resorting to [the] black market. It’s just not right. So we proposed this bill to make a difference, and difference we feel is needed. We will need bipartisan support and I’m hopeful we will have it.”

The bill proposal is rather simple: It would change the power of the few to the power of the many. Local officials would still be able to propose a ban through an ordinance and approve it, but the law could not be enacted without a majority vote from citizens.

Contrary to the power of the people to keep an ordinance from being enacted, the bill also gives the power to the people to propose an ordinance to be enacted through a petition. The petition would then have to be signed by a minimum of 30% of the voters in the jurisdiction.

In Grays Harbor County, the cities of both Westport and McCleary have outright bans on marijuana, claiming that “if legal in their jurisdictions it has the potential to increase an already high rate of drug use.”  Ocean Shores has a moratorium that bans the establishment of any new marijuana business until at least March of 2019, when the moratorium runs out. In Pacific County, there are currently four recreational marijuana shops and 18 producers or processors under I-502.

The bill would also change the law regarding licensing. Most notably, producers would be able to sell immature plants or clones to qualifying patients or providers who have an active Washington state medical marijuana card. Currently, medical patients are left to the black market to obtain seeds or clones for use in approved grow sites, often shipping seeds from outside the country and running the risk of federal prosecution.

Washington legislators also are currently pondering the idea of allowing recreational users to grow their own marijuana at home under strict rules. Washington is the only state that has legalized marijuana but does not allow recreational users to legally grow their own.

The Washington state legislature directed the Liquor and Cannabis Control Board (WSLCCB) to conduct a study of regulatory options for legalizing marijuana plant possession and cultivation by recreational users. The report was completed on December 1, 2017, and the results have been published, with three viable options expressed. Two options would allow home grows under specific rules, while the third option would keep the law as it is and not allow home grows except those for medical patients. 

The decision is now up to state legislators, who will weigh all options to make their final decision. Legislators have hinted recently that not allowing recreational grows of some sort would be detrimental to the state and the additional revenue that could be collected through sales or a licensing program.

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson had previously criticized Washington for not including home grows in the bill, asking, “Why should it be illegal for recreational users to grow their own marijuana within reason while state residents can brew their own beer or wine?”

The Washington State Cannabis Alliance, which represents recreational marijuana dispensaries in Washington has already stated that they don’t think allowing home grows will negatively affect business. The WSLCCB stated in a memo that they have a “strong desire to see adults granted the ability to grow in small quantities at home.”

As of now both the proposed bill and options for home grows are left up in the air, while the uncertainty cast by the shadow of Jeff Sessions and the changing federal stance have left the entire industry unsure of the future.