Washington state is gearing up for the 2021 legislative session and, despite challenges posed by COVID-19, cannabis organizers and activists are optimistic the state will enact some key changes to one of the country’s oldest adult-use cannabis markets.
Although Washington was one of the first states in the country to pass adult-use cannabis, it did not include homegrows when it set up its legal cannabis framework. Due to the previous bill’s sponsor Brian Blake’s defeat in the November election, a new bill, HB 1019, has been introduced. Similar to previous bills, HB 1019 would allow Washingtonians to grow up to six plants at home.
“Giving people the right to grow at home has multiple positive benefits for the individual as well as the industry,” Lara Kaminsky, a previous director of the Cannabis Alliance, told the Spokesman-Review. “We are the only legal state to not allow it – not only does it make sense on a practical level, but allowing people to grow at home increases their knowledge, understanding and interest in the cultivation of cannabis … making them more informed consumers.”
Medical cannabis excise tax
Washington state is the only state with a medical cannabis excise tax. Equal to the adult-use cannabis tax of 37%, activists say this is an undue hardship on patients. This year, state Senators Karen Keiser (D) and Judy Warnick (R) introduced SB 5004 which would overturn the tax for registered patients.
In an email, Bailey Hirschburg of Washington State NORML commented on Washington’s 37 percent medical cannabis excise tax.
“As a volunteer organizer for I-502, I know it wasn’t drafted or designed to be the primary option for patients to access medical cannabis. It is a terrible oversight that lawmakers required patients to pay a proverbial sin tax for medicine during the flawed merging of the medical and recreational markets in 2015. As a consumer, I dislike being taxed for things I want, but being taxed for health needs is completely abhorrent. I support the excise tax’s repeal.” Hirschburg, in an emailed statement to Ganjapreneur
Washington is also in the midst of holding “Social Equity Task Force” meetings. Due to delays from the coronavirus, however, the Task Force has not yet made its planned recommendations to the legislature about how Washington might fix its social equity issues.
Task Force Co-Chair Paula Sardinas told Ganjapreneur last month, “The Task Force should be recommending 2021 legislation that is both urgent and important. HB2870 has some serious inadequacies that cannot wait.”
“The Black and #BIPOC community has been waiting for years for equity,” Sardinas said. “A 2021 clean-up bill can address those inequities. Any politician not willing to draft legislation—is not advocating for the people, they are working for their own interest.”
Looking to join other agricultural commissions like the Apple and Beef Commissions, the Cannabis Alliance is lobbying to establish a “Cannabis Commission,” the Spokesman-Review reports.
“The establishment of this commission helps us be on the forefront of best practices regarding growing methods, worker safety, crop protection and more, helping us achieve our goals for a vital and sustainable industry,” Kaminsky said in the report.
Meanwhile, Crystal Oliver of The Washington Sungrowers Industry Association told the Review that organization members hope to put more “responsibility” in the hands of Washington’s Department of Agriculture when it comes to things like pesticides. They are also hoping the Department will officially recognize cannabis farming as an agricultural activity, which would help with tax deductions and exemptions.
Speaking on the current COVID crisis and its effect on the upcoming session, Oliver says there will be challenges.
“It changes how and when we interact with representatives and senators. It’s no longer possible to pop into their office for 10 minutes between committee hearings, nor is it possible to have a brief conversation with a representative or senator as they’re walking down the hall. It really changes the dynamic of those ongoing conversations.” — Crystal Oliver, via the Spokesman-Review
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