OmniCannabis II: The amending

by Bailey Hirschburg

This is a follow up to an earlier story reported by MJNewsNetwork: OMNICANNABIS: The WA State Senate Made Behemoth Pot Legislation, And It May Be Too Big To Fail

In the end, my observation in the first omnicannabis article was omniscient, “in rushing to remove the band-aid from this wound, Washington Senators sacrificed transparency and quality for quantity and speed. ” And this is just what happened.

Don’t get me wrong, SB 5131, the omnicannabis bill currently awaiting the signature of Governor Jay Inslee, has some good, bad, and ugly in it. If he doesn’t sign or veto it by May 16th it becomes law.

Gov. Jay Inslee can also veto specific sections, but there’s been no word on what, if any, parts he opposes. In a bill containing consulting contracts & financial disclosures, seed/clone sales to patients by producers, tribal and port notification, Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) staff immunity, an organic-equivalent certification for products, gifting/sharing of cannabis, hemp and recreational regulations, required personal cultivation study, and advertising restrictions, there is a lot Inslee could put on the chopping block. But the bill is too big to fail; a veto will create more problems for the already extended legislative session.

With dramatic amendments on the floor of the state house banning marijuana retailer billboards in 2018, expanding a grace period for inactive licenses, and adding language for licensing and rules for industrial hemp use in marijuana products or for consumption, 5131 was more divisive than its unanimous adoption in the state senate. The billboard amendment, sponsored by Rep. Joyce McDonald, passed narrowly. The senate then decided to take the bill to a conference committee where three senators and three representatives created a final compromise amendment for their chambers to vote on.

The compromise removed McDonald’s billboard ban amendment, and added a report on personal cannabis cultivation by the LCB to the legislature by the end of the year, focusing on the policies compliance with the federal Cole memo on marijuana legalization.

Back to my, “sacrificed transparency and quality for quantity and speed” comment. Between house amendments and the conference committee, a loophole emerged in cannabis seed/clone sale language. One sentence saying patients registered in the state database could buy both seeds/clones, and the following sentence saying qualifying (but unregistered) patients could buy seeds.

Cannabis patient/VIPER PAC lobbyist John Novak brought the discrepancy to Sen. Ann Rivers’ staffs attention, who promptly submitted a bill in the special session, SB 5933, making sure authorized patients cannot buy seeds. The bill says it’s “necessary for the immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety, or support of the state government and its existing public institutions,” how this topic meets any definition of that is unclear.

LCB staffer James Paribello testified that the board could likely set rules with or without 5933’s passage. Does this mean banning unregistered patients buying seeds through a rules process, or adapting those rules to allow both registered and unregister to buy seeds?

In my first article I pointed to River’s description of 5131 being like the senate removing a band aide all at once. SB 5933 is essentially picking at the scab. I told the Senate Healthcare committee (and Sen. Rivers) just that during 5933’s public hearing, urging them not to pass this restrictive effort to coerce participation in a database patients aren’t interested in, and empower black market for seed sale.

The committee moved promptly on 5933 from public hearing to executive session (usually they’re separate to collect further testimony or address questions) and voted to pass it, but not without a strong dissent from Senate Majority Whip Maureen Walsh, who openly questioned the necessity of the bill. Walsh, and Sen. Steve O’Ban voted against it, with Sen. Barbara Bailey voting without recommendation, a type of abstention.

Whatever Gov. Inslee’s decision, SB 5131 represents a turning point in Washington marijuana laws. It has a broad scope, compromises from most players, and defies a simple characterization as being a good or bad bill. Its just like any other issues in that way. But aside from 5131’s components, it’s size is a cautionary tale for those who hope to make good laws on the fly or en masse.

They say laws are like sausages because the public doesn’t want to watch them made. That may be, but also like sausages, bite off too much and you’ll likely to choke.

You can read the bill as delivered to Gov. Inslee here:

Trump, Lamestream Media & Cannabis

Donald Trump really hasn’t said much about marijuana as president-elect/president. His administration meanders from strong to modest opposition, depending on who’s talking. This is because cable news is in a nebulous area where media personalities, the president’s staff, channel advertisers, and occasionally everyday people brief Trump from the comfort of his TV. Cannabis, like everything else, is hostage to the news cycle.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer first said the administration was looking at “greater enforcement.” Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and top Justice Dept. advisor, Steven Cook, have a dim view of all criminal justice reforms from the Obama years. They’ve had recent harsh words for legal pot, yet Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper recently described a meeting with Sessions where the AG stressed the administration’s other priorities over enforcement against legal pot.  “Well you haven’t seen us cracking down, have you?” Sessions reportedly told the governor.

Still, a Justice Dept. review of the non-legally-binding Cole memo, which outlined expectations of state legalization in 2013, is said to be underway. Trump’s early executive order on crime was mostly a call to review and enforce laws against drug trafficking and criminal organizations, with no new authority or money to fight pot.

As a candidate Trump said he was 100% supportive of medical cannabis, as president that support has shown itself to barely be barely 50% in maintaining a status quo with HHS Secretary Tom Price, formerly a not-totally-anti-medical-cannabis congressman from Georgia and the continuation of the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer budget amendment which blocks DEA spending on state-compliant medical cannabis laws until September. And Trump’s Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agency has expanded Form 4473 for gun sales to make clear that no legal marijuana consumers, medical or otherwise, has 2nd amendment rights.

Then, Trump’s White House proposed to gut the ONDCP, or drug czar’s office, budget by over 90% while establishing an special commission to examine the opioid epidemic headed by New Jersey’s “smoke ‘em while you got ‘em” Gov. Chris Christie, perhaps the most specifically anti-pot member of the Trump team, yet also the farthest from controlling that federal weed policy. What does all of this mean?

President Trump listens to these men, and others, on marijuana policy. However, their views on weed played little role in their ascendence in his government as opposed to their outright loyalty and deference to Trump himself. He doesn’t keep them around because he agrees with their extremist views on pot. But he listens to one advisor above all else: Cable news. As much as he may say he hates it, mainstream media is the central issue brief for America’s president, academics and political research filling in the rest (probably). Evidence abounds…

“As president, Trump has quite patently gathered his cues from cable shows, and the evidence surfaces in his Twitter account. Analysts have taken to tracing the substance of his tweets to programming moments on CNN or Fox News.”

“Some White House officials — who early on would appear on TV to emphasize points to their boss, who was likely to be watching just steps away in his residence — have started tuning into Fox News’ “Fox & Friends” because they know the president habitually clicks it on after waking near dawn.” – Erik Wemple/Ashley Parker The Washington Post

“White House staff have learned to cater to the president’s image obsession by presenting decisions in terms of how they’ll play in the press.” -Josh Dawsey, Politico

“MSNBC and Fox News are cashing in on Trump’s viewing habits, reportedly hiking up ad rates in February “as companies and outside groups try to influence Trump and his top lieutenants” through ads on his favorite networks.” -Elaine Godfrey, The Atlantic

Trump wants all his weed policies to be broadly popular and perceived as the strongest and best. That’s not news. What is news is that press briefings, media surrogates, and high ranking government officials used to be reliable attempts to describe an administration’s decided drug policy. Now, they’re active arguments to the president regarding an undecided one.

Used to be, federal pot statements were carefully orchestrated and approved soundbytes. Now, they’re often jockeying for future validation for putting on a popular show. It’s depressing, but cannabis is no third rail in getting this treatment, healthcare, taxes, immigration, civil rights, foreign affairs and been treated similarly.

So media around cannabis laws is more crucial than ever both for influencing the commander-n-chief, feeling out his staff’s arguments, and judging individual players overall influence. This ranges from dramatic reports of arrests and injury, to human interest pieces on patients in need or entrepreneurial green businesses. Cannabis law reformers talking to the press better behave, the president might be watching. For the public, this results in a type of “read between the lines” comprehension of news that reformers have long engaged in when judging media veracity, but is becoming a mainstream lenses for the public.

In last month’s budget debate, the White House did little to stop the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment protecting state medical marijuana programs, with Trump later asserting his ability to enforce constitutional duties even with that amendment on the books in the law’s signing statement. Some news outlets immediately interpreted this as a warning shot to medical patients. In all likelihood, the president wants flexibility and firmness simultaneously, and his discretion on this and many other parts of the budget strongly keep his options and opinions amorphous. Its disappointing because he had the opportunity to lead a conversation on individual rights, safety, and economic instead of perpetually reacting to it.

A lot of people know not to trust everything they hear on TV, and as an internet commentator, I’m not saying otherwise. But, knowing what and how pot is being talking about on MSNBC, CNN, and Fox is not a sign of being duped by “lamestream news” so much as trying to understand pot’s portrayal to the president at any given moment. During the campaign, Trump promised to keep the country in suspense on whether or not he’d accept election results. On cannabis at least, that promise has been kept.

If President Trump was going to war with legal pot, he won’t hesitate to tweet it. You don’t have to like every CNN commentator or Fox & Friends to contact them and share your support for legal weed. Until then, follow cannabis in the news without obsessing over it. Our president has that covered.

 

Recognizing 21 Years Of Responsible Cannabis Use

By Bailey Hirschburg

WASHINGTON: Sometimes, the big anniversaries sneak up, or pass you by without you noticing it. It was March before I noticed NORML’s groundbreaking Principles of Responsible Cannabis Use turned 21 I’m February. If these principles were a person, they’d be able to buy cannabis in Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, or Washington.

Like gravity, responsible cannabis use existed before it was defined, but it got easier to see and explain once it was. A popular tactic for deflecting from legalization is opposing adult use because of the problems of underage use.

“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” This recent claim by Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ is a typical example of deflection. Adults can’t be trusted with weed because a child couldn’t handle it. If true, firearms, cars, and a stiff drink would quickly come next as too risky to legalize. Which is why after over a decade studying and articulating the need for cannabis legalization I haven’t met anyone advocating for legal youth access. In fact, the Justice Dept’s Cole memo, outlining federal expectations for legal state marijuana regulations includes some version of several principles.

I represent cannabis consumers in Olympia as Legislative Associate for Washington NORML PAC in part by applying these principles to the development and enforcement of public policies around pot. This traditional vision of cannabis os made of five principles.

I. Adults Only

Cannabis consumption is for adults only. It is irresponsible to provide cannabis to children.

Most American states that have legalized have set the age at 21, similar to alcohol. In the Netherlands the age is 18. Canada is also exploring age 18, similar to tobacco, voting, or military service. While the ideal age of adulthood has flexibility based on the individual, maturity needs to be established before recreational cannabis consumption is acceptable. 

II. No Driving

The responsible cannabis consumer does not operate a motor vehicle or other dangerous machinery while impaired by cannabis, nor (like other responsible citizens) while impaired by any other substance or condition, including some medicines and fatigue.

Cannabis use can lead to inebriation impacting motor skills, timing, and judgement. Combined with other drugs these effects are even stronger. Avoiding operating machinery whenever you’re impaired by drugs or fatigue is a key principle of responsible use. It’s also important to remember that cannabis impacts infrequent user longer. As a regular consumer, I’m typically over inebriation within an hour of smoking. Edibles or infused beverages last longer, so I wouldn’t drive for the remainder of the day after eating them. However, an infrequent consumer may find the high persists so they should wait several more hours before driving.

III. Set and Setting

The responsible cannabis user will carefully consider his/her set and setting, regulating use accordingly.

When cannabis is illegal everywhere, it can seem like splitting hairs to worry about set. the people with or around you, or the setting, which is the type of location. Smoking with a friend on their balcony is different than smoking during a county fair. Subjecting others to your smoke or vape without permission or consideration helps portray consumers as rude and irresponsible. It doesn’t take many lapses in judgement to make a bad impression for all consumers. This is just as true with tobacco smoke, or public intoxication which can be civil offenses without criminalizing cigarettes or beer.

IV. Resist Abuse

Use of cannabis, to the extent that it impairs health, personal development or achievement, is abuse, to be resisted by responsible cannabis users.

Recently actor Woody Harrelson, a member of NORML’s national advisory board discussed giving up cannabis after 30 years of regular use. Harrelson enjoyed awards and accolades throughout that time for his work as a performer, activist, and playwright, “[It was] 30 solid years of partying too f—ing hard,” he said. “I feel like it was keeping me from being emotionally available.” When discussing the dangers of cannabis, I describe it as “Not harmless, just less harmful.” and Harrelson’s attitude bears that out. His decades of experience with weed haven’t hindered Woody’s career, and the choice to forgo it for the immediate future is just another example of consumers recognizing and avoiding the patterns of abuse.

V. Respect Rights of Others

The responsible cannabis user does not violate the rights of others, observes accepted standards of courtesy and public propriety, and respects the preferences of those who wish to avoid cannabis entirely.

The rights of cannabis consumers have not always been respected. One could possibly develop an air of entitlement believing “You used to ignored my rights, now I can ignore yours.” But reasonable adults know this is false. Retribution is not responsible. Much like “Set and Setting”, prohibition has taught us what happens when rights aren’t respected. While our laws about public consumption need to be changed to allow for acceptable social use, but having and enforcing those laws is consistent with a responsible marijuana legalization.

By treating all use as illegal we leave less attention/resources for combating use that’s actually dangerous. Attorney General Sessions needs to understand how legal marijuana is implemented before he lumps responsible use in with youth use, abuse, and risky behavior.