RICHLAND — Two Richland lawmakers have their eyes on medical marijuana in the upcoming legislative session.
Rep. Larry Haler and Sen. Jerome Delvin each are planning legislation that would tighten rules for when marijuana can be used as a medicine.
With the start of the 2010 session about two weeks away, Haler already has prefiled a bill that would restrict when those charged with drug offenses can use medical marijuana as a defense.
According to the state Department of Health, patients with a terminal or debilitating illness are allowed to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana with a written recommendation from a doctor.
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The current statute allows those patients to assert a medical marijuana defense when charged with possession of the drug if they can prove they’ve complied with the state’s medical marijuana laws.
Haler’s bill would disallow the medical marijuana defense when the drug isn’t produced in compliance with state and federal product safety laws.
He said the ultimate goal is to stop allowing medical marijuana patients to grow their own, and instead require them to obtain it through a prescription from a pharmacy.
The bill doesn’t mention pharmacies, and the state health department has interpreted current state law to allow only qualifying patients or a designated provider to possess and grow medical marijuana.
It remains illegal in Washington for anyone to buy or sell marijuana. The law also doesn’t allow dispensaries, according to the health department.
Haler said if the bill as drafted doesn’t require dispensing medical marijuana through pharmacies, he’ll have it amended once he reaches Olympia in January.
Delvin’s approach would be to require medical marijuana patients to carry a state-issued identification card declaring that they’re allowed to possess limited quantities of the drug.
“It’s for patients to have something to show to (police) officers,” said Delvin, a former cop.
He also would like to require that doctors prescribing marijuana have practices and be licensed in Washington, and to clarify the amounts that patients can possess and grow.
Delvin hasn’t yet filed any marijuana legislation.
Haler and Delvin are reacting to recent conflicts in Richland between police, city government and a group that wants to set up a collective where medical marijuana patients can combine their plants and grow them together.
Police and members of the Three Rivers Collective have clashed over what constitutes a 60-day supply of the drug.
The health department has said a presumptive 60-day supply equals 24 ounces of processed pot and no more than 15 plants, and Richland police have interpreted that to mean no more than 15 plants in one location.
But members of the Three Rivers Collective said the law doesn’t prevent them from combining their plants and sharing their medicine.
Haler said he’s concerned that allowing marijuana collectives opens the doors for drug dealers to move into town.
Having marijuana regulated like any other prescription drug makes more sense, he said.
“I think we’ve got to get common sense back into our laws governing controlled substances,” Haler said. “Marijuana is a gateway to harder drugs, and it does bring on the criminal element.”
But all of Haler and Delvin’s plans may be rendered moot if a bill filed by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, is passed and signed by the governor.
Dickerson on Dec. 7 introduced House Bill 2401, which proposed to legalize marijuana and sell it in state liquor stores.
The legislative session starts Jan. 11.
For more information about medical marijuana, go to www.doh.wa.gov/hsqa/medical-marijuana.