Caffeinated News

1. On Monday, City Attorney Pete Holmes released a memo on the city’s priorities for marijuana legislation, which has ignited fears among medical marijuana patients.

Holmes' memo seeks to address the fact that medical marijuana shops (created by 1998's voter-approved I-692) have created a quasi legal recreational market that is undermining sanctioned recreational shops (created by voters by 2012's I-502.)  Holmes' plan is simple: Fold the medical marijuana market into the I-502 recreational market. Holmes' cited state Sen. Jeanne Khol-Welles’ (D-36, Ballard) new marijuana bill as a promising model. (Another bill, proposed by state Sen. Ann Rivers, R-18, La Center, was introduced this week as well; rather than combining the two industries as Kohl-Welles' bill would do, though, Sen. Rivers' bill attempts to solve the problem by making the two markets more distinct: Rivers' bill wouldn't allow traditional (smoke-able) dried pot leaves to be sold at medical outlets. The "green cross" stores could only sell pot oils, balms, and liquids.)

Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, has criticized Holmes' approach. In a lengthy, mini-white paper issued yesterday morning, ASA spokeswomen, Kari Boiter called Holmes' recommendations an “unacceptable policy prescription.” Boiter highlighted seven areas in which the memo and senator Kohl-Welles bill would represent a significant setback for medical marijuana users.

First, Boiter argued that recreational shops have prices that are four to five times higher than the medical shops, placing a significant burden on patients who already suffer large health care related bills. (However, this week, Bloomberg News and the The Stranger reported that recreational marijuana store prices have been falling, with prices going down as much as 40 percent, putting them in direct competition with medical pot stores.) For their part, Holmes' Deputy Chief of Staff John Schochet told PubliCola that “an unregulated and untaxed version of any industry [is] going to sell for less money than the regulated taxed version.” However, the lack of regulations are creating big problems, namely the proliferation of a gray pot market. 

Boiter's remaining list of concerns included: a complaint that 502 stores don't carry medical grade pot with low THC and high CBD (“Recreational shops do not that have access to the products medical patients," she says) ; trouble with a 502 labelling requirement that says recreational pot must be identified as intoxicating, which could cause misconceptions and confusion for medical users; and concerns that Holmes' (and Sen. Kohl-Welles') idea for state Department of Health waivers for medical patients shopping at recreational stores will remove the relationship med pot patients have built with their doctors.

In addition to responding to concerns, Schochet pointed to a major benefit in Holmes' approach: Getting rid of the "Affirmative Defense" hang up for medical marijuana patients.

Holme's Deputy Chief of Staff, John Schochet provided the city's response to the ASA complaints.

Schochet first pointed out that the City Attorney wants the DOH to create requirements for stores to carry certain medical marijuana goods. He went on to argue that “With enough demand, the market will cause 502 stores to carry [medical] goods.” Holmes’s plan, he continued, also allows individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use, circumventing the concern that patients will need a higher and consistent volume of marijuana for pain relief.

On the issue of labeling, Schochet pointed out that all patients who receive waivers to buy medical grade pot under the new system will have to consult with a medical provider about exactly what they need. Furthermore, Schochet says that Holmes wants trained employees in certain I-502 stores to advise on the medical benefits of certain kinds of marijuana.

As for waivers, Holmes’s office says DOH would not supplant doctors; patients who receive waivers under the new system will still have to go through a medical practitioner.

In addition to responding to concerns, Schochet pointed to a major benefit in Holmes' approach: Getting rid of the "Affirmative Defense" hang up for medical marijuana patients. I-692 uses an Affirmative Defense for pot patients which put the burden of proof on the defendant and not the prosecution. In other words, in the medical marijuana market, patients have no arrest protection. Shifting to the 502 system, Schochet points out, will do away with this problem for patients. Medical marijuana advocates like Boiter say that affirmative defense has been satisfactory because it has offered “enough protection” for patients as none have been fully prosecuted. But, Schochet says, the city attorney wants  to “create clear lines" instead "about what is legal and what’s illegal" to avoid a system where “the police if they want to can arrest people and take them all the way to trial before the affirmative defense comes into play.

City Attorney Holmes' memo (LIKE) and convincing response to the tough criticisms, brings us back to a  Friday Fizz tradition: LIKES & DISLIKES

2. We DISLIKE that Seattle-suburban Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1) was on a short list of Democrats who voted with the Republican house yesterday to undermine the Wall Street reforms that populist Democrats such as U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) fought for and passed back in 2010's landmark Dodd-Frank bill.

Lefty blog Daily Kos does a good job explaining specifically how the GOP legislation weakened Wall Street reforms (such as putting off the so-called Volcker rule that prevents commercial banks from using your money for risky investments).

Rep. DelBene spokeswoman Ramsey Cox tells Fizz: "While the legislation voted on yesterday wasn't perfect, it did contain a number of common sense fixes that landmark legislation often requires. A good example is a provision that would clarify that farmers trading in derivatives to hedge risk are not subject to the same standards as big banks.”

OK. But here's what US Rep. Nancy Pelosi said about the legislation:

The Republican package ... represents a brazen attempt to dismantle essential Wall Street reforms and sneak through a New Year’s present to big banks.

The last thing large banks need is more help.  Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ auditing arm – based on a rigorous quantitative analysis – recently found that the Dodd-Frank Act has not raised the cost of credit large banks provide and has, in fact, improved their safety and soundness.

Republicans are seeking to tie the hands of Wall Street’s watchdogs and further delay the Volcker rule that protects the American economy by prohibiting large banks from risky gambling with taxpayer-backed funds.  While many of the provisions in these bills only became public last night, their destructive impact is clear, and their intent is unmistakable.  In the opening days of the 114th Congress, Republicans are dismissing the interests of middle class families and racing to do the bidding of their special interest friends.

We must have an economy that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

Two other members of Washington state's Democratic house delegation voted with the GOP as well: US Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA, 6) and US Rep. Rick Larsen (D-WA, 2) .

3. While we sorta like that Gov. Jay Inslee announced a proposal yesterday to let electric cars ride for free on ferries and toll lanes  (what about pedestrians and bikers? and why continue to subsidize car culture and sprawl?) ...

here's what is cool: An initial check on Inslee's finance reports indicates that he has not recieved any big contributions from the likes of Tesla, Nissan, or the electric car industry.

We'll keep looking, but yesterday, he defied our assumptions (based on past Inslee contributions).


4. And lastly, we LIKE this find from Seattle Bike Blog: Just two percent of the city's curb space is dedicated to bike lanes.

We don't actually like the stat, but props to SBB for debunking myths about the war on cars and the realities of the city's infrastructure.

The SDOT study is still in progress, but SBB's Tom Fucoloro tells Fizz there was a sneak peek at the stats during a recent presentation by the study team to the Seattle Bike Advisory Board.



Bernard Ellouk contributed to this report. 

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