Olympia CapitolBuilding
Olympia CapitolBuilding

On Friday, February 13, 2015, The Washington State Senate passed SB 5052, sponsored by State Senator Ann Rivers, Republican Senator from the 18th District.  I was there, but for reference please see this link to the archive of the hearing.

The Bill’s original language was bought and paid for by an I-502 business group sponsored by real estate developer Martin Tobias. Everything went as expected: all amendments recommended by Democratic Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles were rejected, but the bill is expected to change considerably with input from Kohl-Welles and others. The Kohl-Welles amendments had mostly to do with protecting medical marijuana patients: voluntary instead of mandatory registry; legalizing 6-plant home grows for adults throughout the state; and so forth.

Rivers, a former lobbyist, made clear that plenty of work still needed to be done to the bill, which has already changed in some positive directions from the initial Washington CannaBusiness draft. But her public testimony demonstrated intransigence on several key issues that can only be explained by the amount of dollars put in her pocket by Tobias lobbyists. According to Rivers, her Colorado peers warned her that if there was anything they would do differently, it would be to not allow home grows, because they represent threats to tax revenue from I-502 sales. Her answer to Democratic Senator Kohl-Welles’ effort to legalize 6 plants for all adults, with exceptions for noncommercial medical cannabis patients with special needs, is a four-person collective provision for medical marijuana patients as long as they are 15 miles from any I-502 retail point.

Other Republican Senators demonstrated variations on this theme, with public proclamations that the medical marijuana market had to go because it was competing unfairly with the legal retail market; and proclamations that problems with the legal market would surely be solved by banning medical marijuana markets and eliminating home grows. The history of cannabis prohibition, of course, tells a different story.

But in Washington State, from whence the first indoor grow guide was published by “Murphy Stephens” in 1973; from whence Ed Rosenthal wrote about his first commercial indoor encounter in 1987 in the pages of the Whole Earth Catalog; from whence one Steve Murphy operates the venerable Seattle landmark “Indoor Sun Shoppe”; and where wholesale prices per pound hardly vary from those found in Northern California … it is absurd to think that 2015 legislation can enforce gray and black markets out of existence.

Of course, it’s political theater. But it’s political theater that reveals a complete ignorance of cannabis market dynamics anywhere, but especially how Washington is different from Colorado. It’s dumb political theater, with a firewall of lobbyist money that prevents common sense from getting anywhere near the process. What they legislate will not achieve what they want, nor will it achieve what they say they want.

Because the hearing reflects the latter rather than the  former, there may therefore be little to learn about the political process of reforming cannabis policy in Washington State from the scripted drama on the floor, in which Democratic Senator Kohl Welles introduced amendment after amendment in a chorus of resounding NO votes in the Republican-controlled chamber. This was past the time, if there ever was one, where reason might sway reasonable individuals. Republicans and Democrats nonetheless had to let the process play through to resolution. Many chose that time to read remarks for the record, as though what anyone had to say at that point mattered.

One Senator’s remarks bear mentioning, however. At 49:23, Republican Senator Hargrove stood up and warned the legislature of the generation of pot zombies to come. Senator Kohl-Welles responded not by pointing out how ridiculous his claims were, but by agreeing with him that we had to protect the children and that her legislation was all about that.

These are the terms of the debate, apparently: willful ignorance fortified by PAC money that doesn’t know cannabis markets and so can’t possibly understand they can’t get the monopoly protection they want: plus “the children” end of story. It remains to be seen how much of this cautionary tale bears on other states, especially California, but a couple of lines from an Eels song keeps coming back to me:

Don’t take any / wooden nickels / when you sell your soul …



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