An Interstate Marijuana Sales Bill Is About to Be Enacted By Washington State Legislators

Washington News
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Washington lawmakers are on the verge of enacting a bill that would pave the way for the state's licensed marijuana entrepreneurs to trade across state lines with their counterparts in other legal jurisdictions.

On Wednesday, the state House of Representatives passed SB 5069 by a vote of 71 to 26. On the House floor, members accepted a technical change to fix what was called "a scrivener's error" in the version that had been authorized by the Senate earlier this month. Due to the amendment, the bill still needs the approval of the Senate before it can be sent on to Democratic Governor Jay Inslee for his signature.

The bill would not instantly legalize cannabis sales across state lines. If federal law is changed "to allow for the interstate transfer of cannabis" or if the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issues an opinion "allowing or tolerating" marijuana commerce across state lines, then the governor would be authorized to enter into agreements with other legal states.

"The government often lags behind the times. On Wednesday, Democratic Representative Sharon Wylie remarked, "This is a small way of being proactive." We don't know how the federal government would respond if it acted while we were out of session. We can't predict when they'll strike, but this sends a message and positions us to act properly if they do.

Oregon and California, two additional West Coast states, have passed legislation along similar lines. While both would need fresh federal action, California would further let the state's attorney general activate the policy change by a legal opinion. State officials asked Attorney General Rob Bonta's (D) office to draft such regulation back in January.

If any of the two federal requirements are satisfied, the law mandates that state regulators notify businesses in writing of the new federal policy and of any "statutory changes necessary to authorize the sale, delivery, and receipt of cannabis" from businesses located outside of the state. While the governor would have the power to engage in agreements with other states, it would be up to regulators to create the required laws for marijuana imports and exports.

Washington state law mandates conformity with all packaging and labeling requirements for all imported goods.

Advocates in Olympia have framed the bill as a method to ensure Washington's legal cannabis economy can compete with those in other states before the end of federal prohibition, which many see as inevitable.

Washington, which legalized cannabis for adults via a ballot initiative in 2012, was hailed by the measure's primary sponsor, Republican Sen. Ann Rivers, as a "leader in the cannabis industry" before the bill was voted on in the Senate last month. She did, however, express concern that the state "could be left in the dust if we're out of town and unable to take action" in the event of a change in federal law.

We anticipate federal legalization shortly. Bills have been presented, and it seems like we're getting closer," she added. She stated that SB 5069 gives the governor the authority "to look out for this industry and make sure that business can flow from our state to other states.

While marijuana is still illegal on the federal level, states like Washington are taking steps to prepare for when it will be legal to transport cannabis over state lines. In 2019, Governor Kate Brown (D) of Oregon passed into law identical legislation to allow for the interstate sale of marijuana.

"This will give us all three West Coast states with interstate commerce laws," said Adam Smith, founder of the non-profit Alliance for Sensible Markets, which promotes cross-border cannabis trading. That is not by chance. Since 2019 when the first measure was enacted in Oregon, we've been working on this.

According to Smith's interview with Marijuana Moment, states won't wait for federal legalization to start negotiating international cannabis agreements. He is hopeful that new legislation in many Western states would prompt the Biden administration to clarify its position on cross-border trade.

In a tense moment, "We are sitting on the cusp," Smith remarked. We are prepared to communicate with other nations. We simply need assurance that you mean it, when you claim you, won't go after people for obeying state law.

He said, "There is no legal reason, and no practical reason, for them to say, 'Oh no, but we will draw the line at moving cannabis from California to New Jersey,'" if the DOJ is willing to permit state control of a federally unlawful enterprise.

Smith predicted that legislation similar to Washington's would pave the way for other states to join a federal marijuana market. Long-time producing states, such as those on the West Coast, may benefit from this because they may be able to offer their goods to new markets at greater prices. Meanwhile, rather than each state establishing its legal sector, those with circumstances less suitable to cultivating cannabis or those just building up a legal market may import goods from others.

Nothing here has anything to do with facilitating trade between the states of Oregon, California, and Washington. He emphasized that the flow of cheap cannabis over international boundaries would be detrimental to all parties involved.

Smith, whose group collaborated with the Cannabis Alliance and the Washington Sun and Craft Growers Association to garner support for the Washington law, said that the first interstate agreements may be signed by the end of the year. Most people don't see it coming, he added, but "it's the most important shift that will happen since the first states legalized."

Several drug-related initiatives were among the several being considered by lawmakers as the parliamentary session neared its finish this month. The House on Tuesday passed a bill from the Senate that would require the state to continue researching the medicinal potential of psilocybin. A pilot program at the University of Washington to treat veterans and first responders is being proposed as an amendment to that measure in the House. The Senate must approve the pilot program before it can be sent to the governor since it was not included in the version of the measure that was approved by the Senate.

Both houses have also approved a bill that would make it illegal for businesses in the state to exclude job candidates who test positive for marijuana usage during the employment process. Existing workers' off-duty cannabis usage would not be affected.

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