The senate just voted to pass the house version of Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles' (D-36, Seattle) controversial legislation to regulate the production and distribution of medical marijuana. The 27-21 vote, with seven Republicans voting for the legislation, comes amid growing concern by Governor Christine Gregoire that the law will run into trouble with federal regulation and the Department of Justice. The house version sets up a regulatory structure with rules for who can produce marijuana, limits on the number of dispensaries that can be located in a particular area, and includes a clause that protects patients from arrest.

In the floor debate preceding the final passage of the bill, senators sought to quell concern of the US Department of Justice prosecuting state employees for administering the program—something the Governor and regional DOJ officials had suggested was a possibility. Sen. Jerome Delvin (R-8, Richland) told legislators that "the feds haven't done anything, in any state" to stop the dispensing of medical marijuana.

Still, Sen. Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn) argued that the Kohl-Welles' legislation would create an "underground market, that exists today, but would be bigger and larger" if the bill becomes law. Sen. Mike Carrell (R-28, Lakewood) hit a similar note by arguing that the bill "has been perverted into a bill that's put the state on the brink of the legalization of marijuana."

Senators speaking in support of the legislation, including Sen. Debbie Regala (D-27, Tacoma), explained that the bill would fill in the "grey areas" that exist in current law and make it difficult for law enforcement officials to enforce who and where one can sell medical marijuana.

Not surprisingly, the eastside Republicans, who usually vote with the Democrats on social issues—including Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), Sen. Joe Fain (R-47, Redmond)—all voted in favor of the legislation.

Gregoire, who threatened to veto the bill late last week, released the following statement today:
I realize the value that medical marijuana has for patients and support the voter-approved initiative. I also agree with the intent of the Legislature to clarify ambiguity surrounding search and arrest as well as concerns around dispensaries and access. We need to create a system that works.

I asked the Legislature to work with me on a bill that does not subject state workers to risk of criminal liability. I am disappointed that the bill as passed does not address those concerns while also meeting the needs of medical marijuana patients.

I will review the bill to determine any parts that can assist patients in need without putting state employees at risk. No state employee should have to break federal law in order to do their job.
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