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Governor's veto deals blow to local medical marijuana dispensaries
After pressure from both the federal and state level, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of Senate Bill 5073, the bill passed by lawmakers that would have allowed for medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington.
While dispensaries have cropped up throughout the state, and so far skirted the issue of their legality, Friday’s announcement from Olympia means patients and caregivers must find other means to connect.
In a prepared statement April 29, Gregoire again stated her concerns that legalizing dispensaries would put “state employees at risk (of federal prosecution).” She also referenced the promises of action from U.S. attorneys that would be taken against those operating dispensaries, citing last Thursday’s raids in Spokane. The DEA, along with support from local law support, raided and shut down five dispensaries in Spokane.
“Ultimately, the state is limited in its ability to deal with these issues,” the governor said. “State law does not trump federal law.”
Gregoire said she is still open to discussing the issue. She said she plans on speaking with the governors of the other 14 states that currently allow medical marijuana to see if there is something that could be done about marijuana’s classification as a drug. It is currently a Schedule 1 narcotic, the highest and strictest level of enforcement in federal drug laws. The classification puts marijuana on par with ecstasy, heroin and LSD.
Gregoire said she hoped marijuana could be reduced to a Schedule 2 narcotic, which would allow it to be prescribed by doctors and distributed from pharmacies like any other medication.
In Federal Way, a miniature version of the battle being fought in Olympia has taken place. The city council recently enacted a moratorium on dispensaries within city limits.
That decision came after legal skirmishes with Conscious Care Cooperative and GAME Collective, two of three dispensaries that had opened for business within city limits in the last year. After the governor’s veto on Friday, it appears Conscious Care and GAME, along with Cascade Medical Center, will face consequences including fines and criminal charges if they continue their operations in Federal Way.
In an email correspondence, city spokesman Chris Carrel wrote that Federal Way was “reviewing the governor’s veto actions and assessing its policy implications.” From the city’s standpoint, not much has changed, as Carrel wrote that “with the governor’s vetoing (of) major provisions of the legislation... it appears that the sale of medical marijuana is still illegal under both state and federal law.”
For Conscious Care Cooperative, one of the three dispensaries that had been attempting to operate within Federal Way, Gregoire’s veto means a shift in what they will attempt to do for medical marijuana patients in the area.
Brad Ecklund, manager of Conscious Care, said Conscious Care’s intent will now be to put patients in touch with doctors.
“We hope to replace the dispensary with a medical facility employing doctors who write medical marijuana recommendations,” Ecklund said.
While Ecklund looks to shift the focus of his organization’s efforts in Federal Way, Cascade Medical Center owner Dave Madrid feels the people of Washington are being ignored by their elected officials.
“The bottom line is, the city of Federal Way and the governor have turned their back on what the voters voted in,” he said.
Madrid expressed his displeasure at the fact that his time and effort in attempting to get Cascade off the ground essentially amounts to nothing due to the governor’s veto.
“I spent the last three months trying to put it together, and at this time, I can’t open it,” Madrid said. “If I do (open), they’ll shut me down, or give me a criminal offense.”
All was not lost for advocates of medical marijuana use on Friday, as the governor did sign parts of the bill that allowed for clearer legal defense of medical marijuana users in certain situations, and also for the creation of “gardens” that could contain up to 45 plants.