WA Senate LAW - Committee Meeting
(March 16, 2021) - HB 1105 - Public Hearing

WA Senate LAW - Committee Meeting (March 16, 2021) - HB 1105 - Gallery

The second policy committee hearing on legislation extending arrest protections to all authorized medical cannabis patients elicited similar testimony and substantial sign in support.

Here are some observations from the Tuesday March 16th Washington State Senate Law and Justice Committee (WA Senate LAW) meeting.

My top 3 takeaways:

  • HB 1105, which would extend arrest protections to any authorized patient, was reported on by committee staff and introduced by the prime sponsor prompting one member curious about the effectiveness of---and consequences for---abuse of the current medical cannabis system. 
    • On February 4th, a policy committee public hearing on the bill was held by the Washington State House Health Care and Wellness Committee (WA House HCW). Members approved the legislation without changes on February 10th and the bill was debated and passed by the Washington State House of Representatives (WA House) on March 1st.
    • WA Senate LAW Chair Jamie Pedersen introduced Washington State Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee (WA Senate HEWD) Staff Coordinator Alicia Kinne-Clawson to provide the background and briefing on the bill analysis (audio - 3m, video).
      • Kinne-Clawson reminded committee members about laws already in place permitting cannabis use by adults 21 and older as well as laws where “specific types of health care professionals may authorize a qualifying patient’s use of marijuana which increases the patient’s possession limit, permits home cultivation of marijuana plants, and provides certain legal protections that are not afforded to” adults generally.
      • Kinne-Clawson then described the required authorization form designed by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and how authorized patients and designated providers may choose to register with the Department at medically endorsed cannabis retailers. Registration resulted in creation of a “recognition card” giving patients and providers protection from arrest, prosecution, or “criminal sanctions or civil consequences for certain violations of state law relating to” some cannabis use or possession offenses, she said, provided they behaved “within the confines of state law.” Those who choose not to register weren’t “granted the same criminal and civil protections,” Kinne-Clawson said, but were allowed “under certain conditions, [to] raise an affirmative defense at trial for certain violations of state law.”
      • HB 1105 would extend arrest and sanction protection to patients and providers with “a valid authorization [who are] not entered into the database and do not have a recognition card,” Kinne-Clawson reported, but did not otherwise alter their possession limits. Patients would continue to be expected to produce their authorization “upon the request of any investigating law enforcement officer,” she said. Furthermore, they were also expected to have a “copy of the authorization and the qualifying patient or designated provider's contact information” posted visibly near their cannabis products and plants, Kinne-Clawson clarified. Additionally, the affirmative defense statute would be “eliminated under this bill,” she told senators. No fiscal note had been produced on the legislation’s impact, she stated at the conclusion of her remarks.
    • Senator Jesse Salomon spoke up to say “before I relax, or vote to relax, medical marijuana laws and regulations I guess I want to understand how effective...the regulatory regime is right now.” He said that before passage of Initiative 502 “my understanding was that, you know, you could just kind of hire a doctor who sorta advertises himself for $200 a meeting... and will evaluate your medical need and no one ever is turned away,” a system he alleged had been “very loose.” Salomon asked about the current “quality control” of the system. Kinne-Clawson pointed to DOH guidance on authorization forms, DOH guidance on who can authorize medical cannabis use, steps health professionals must complete before issuing an authorization, and follow up evaluation of patient treatment. She admitted she was still ascertaining the “disciplinary authority” for professionals not following the law, and promised to “circle back with” Salomon on the topic (audio - 2m, video).
    • Representative Shelley Kloba, the prime sponsor, provided introductory remarks in line with her prior arguments supporting the bill. She said the State’s existing medical cannabis sector was “one of the more intensely regulated among all of the states” and “unequal treatment of patients” had become clear to her (audio - 4m, video).
      • Kloba described learning about medical cannabis authorization requirements patients were expected to meet before receiving an authorization, including having an existing diagnosis and in-state residency. She noted the form itself functioned similarly to a prescription: “it’s on tamper-proof paper, it has to be signed by your health care professional, there’s...a limited list of people who can qualify.” Kloba felt qualifying for an authorization was “no small hurdle.”
      • Conditioning arrest protections solely on a “voluntary piece of paper” meant patients may have to prove their innocence at trial, she remarked, “and [I] feel that we should not be…treating people different because of the lack or presence of this recognition card.”
      • Addressing Salomon’s point, Kloba commented that prior to Washington’s adult use market it “may have made sense to have this additional layer of qualification.” However, the incentive to abuse the medical system to access cannabis “is gone because rather than go through all that fuss and bother as a patient to access it” adults could simply buy cannabis products from a licensed retail store. The existing policy subjected patients and their designated providers to “a cruel level of uncertainty and vulnerability and it is time to change” the law.
      • Salomon recognized the “sound logic in the bill and what you’re trying to do” in attempting to minimize the need for court proceedings and asked Kloba whether “there are consequences for the kind of behavior I described...the doctor just handing out [authorizations] like candy.” Kloba noted that she was not one of the health care professionals permitted to issue authorizations, but commented that public testimony would include medical professionals able to speak on that point. However, she relayed that “anecdotally” some patients said there was difficulty “finding a provider who is willing to engage in writing them an authorization” as not all were familiar with the plant’s medical applications. Kloba was nonetheless amenable to “more discussion on what would happen to a provider” issuing authorizations to people not meeting state “criteria”  (audio - 2m, video).
  • The same panel of supportive speakers from the patient and medical communities returned to articulate the need for the legislation and its benefits.
    • John Kingsbury, authorized patient (audio - 2m, video)
      • Kingsbury said he’d been “an authorized medical cannabis patient since 2009” and had two qualifying conditions with authorizations to use cannabis medically written by “two board certified physicians who’ve been treating me for nearly 20 years each. By the spirit and the letter of Washington State law, I am a qualified patient.”
      • Kingsbury testified that “even with these credentials, even if I’m not committing a crime, Washington state law begins with the assumption that I may be a criminal and I am not entitled to protection from arrest.” He added, “these arrests do happen,” though not always resulting in prosecution “because there is no crime...but by then these patients...have had their lives turned upside down.”
      • If HB 1105 were passed, Kingsbury argued, patients “cannot be arrested” absent “obvious violation of the law.” The bill would do “nothing to protect” those possessing or cultivating cannabis in excess of statutory limits. He closed by calling current practice “senseless,” and encouraged the committee to approve the legislation.
    • Sunil Aggarwal, Co-Founder of the Advanced Integrative Medical Science Institute (AIMS, audio - 2m, video)
      • Aggarwal listed his medical expertise and familiarity with Washington’s medical cannabis system before explaining that he learned about HB 1105 from patients and wanted “to amplify their voice.”
      • He talked about the “routine” when a doctor at AIMS Institute issued a cannabis authorization, saying he was one of many who contributed to the development of the current requirements. “After I sign it I don’t want my patient getting arrested on the way to their shop,” he remarked, feeling that a health care professional’s “signature should give that protection from arrest.” Aggarwal testified that the bill would enhance “protection of a doctor/patient relationship and the dignity of the patient and their rights...under the law.”
    • Lisa Buchanan, Cancer Lifeline Volunteer, Puget Sound Oncology Nursing Society, and Cannabis Nurses Network Co-Founder (audio - 2m, video)
      • Buchanan described how she was “in the quality of life business” and worked at Dockside Cannabis, the first chain of medically endorsed retail stores in the state, which provided her experience helping “people using cannabis both in the health care system and coming into a store.” She said, “we need not start with the assumption” that medical cannabis patients would behave criminally.
      • Buchanan observed patients were “suffering” and often “in crisis,” and backed HB 1105 because they “deserve respect for their personal medical treatment decisions, empathy, and the presumption of innocence that all other citizens of Washington state receive.” She asked that lawmakers vote “for real protections for our marijuana patients.”
    • Steven Fields, multiple sclerosis (MS) patient (audio - 2m, video).
      • Saying that he had “been living with secondary progressive MS for almost 30 years,” Fields testified to a frightening medical episode he’d had in December 2019 “that left me in the hospital and two different rehab centers for a total of four months.” After attempting treatment with standard medical options, he found cannabis to be a preferable alternative medicine, and asked for the right to “grow this plant in our homes without fear of criminal sanctions.”
      • Fields stressed that even absent incarceration, current law could mean “costly legal burdens which can also negatively impact our health.” Some patients weren’t comfortable “releasing information into the state registry” since alleged “recent events prove it’s not even secure.” He called for “support and compassion in the form of common sense legislation.”

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