Update from the Capitol: Protecting medical patients from arrest, 988 system, and the American Rescue Plan

Protecting medical patients from arrest

cannabis leaf shadow

As a member (and now Chair) of the House Commerce & Gaming Committee, I have had the opportunity to meet with and learn from patients who use cannabis as a medicine. They have shared with me the challenges associated with acquiring cannabis to treat their conditions.

Under Washington law, certain conditions must be met for a person to be considered a qualified patient.  Patients who enter the voluntary medical marijuana registry database are given a recognition card and protected from arrest. Patients who choose not to enter the voluntary registry database, are only entitled to an affirmative defense. This means that their medicine can still be seized and destroyed, and they can be arrested.

Patients should not be treated to two wildly different standards based on whether or not they choose to voluntarily enter a database. While this system may have made sense before the legalization of adult use cannabis, now it is simply arbitrary and subjects medical patients to a cruel level of uncertainty and vulnerability.

House Bill 1105, which I sponsored, would fix this problem by providing the same civil and criminal protections for anyone who has a medical marijuana authorization from their doctor and is adhering to the rules. We should not be treating people who choose not to enter a voluntary database as criminals. HB 1105 passed the House with a strong bipartisan majority and has cleared the Senate Law & Justice Committee.

988—a new lifeline for crisis response and suicide prevention

Desperate man

For most people in our community, the only number they know for emergencies is 911. When police or the fire department are needed, that’s the best number to call. But when the emergency is related to substance use, a mental health crisis, or a person at immediate risk of suicide, having a law enforcement officer arrive at their door may not be the appropriate emergency response.

Officers are not social workers, nor do they want to be. Without a comprehensive crisis response system, people in crisis can find themselves in standoffs with law enforcement when they should be in the care of a counselor. People with severe mental illness are far more likely to end up in jail or prison and are more likely to be involved in fatal police encounters.

An improved crisis response system would reduce reliance on emergency room services and the use of law enforcement response to crises. Last year, the bipartisan National Suicide Hotline Designation Act designated 988 as the new national suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline number, paving the way for states to develop improved crisis response systems. The federal law requires the line be operational by July 16, 2022.

I was proud to vote for HB 1477 which would implement the 988 system here in Washington state. The vision of this bill and the 988 line is to create robust call centers to support people in crisis and ensure they receive the care they need, when they need it. These enhanced 988 services will coordinate with 911, EMT and law enforcement, and behavioral health systems to create a seamless system of care for those in crisis.

American Rescue Plan: What’s in it for Washington?

US Capitol

This month, Congress passed President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, a strong federal investment in communities to help us all get past the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to strong leadership at the federal level, Washington state residents will receive support in the form of economic impact payments, while state, county, city, and tribal governments will receive increased funding and access to vaccines and testing, boosts to school districts and higher education institutions, rental assistance and child care funding, and support for small business grants.

Washington state’s share of the funds that the Legislature will have control over is about $4.253 billion. While we do not know exactly where that money will be directed yet, we should have a better idea by the time the House and Senate approve an operating budget in late April. Like we passed in February with our Step One for Community and Economic Recovery Plan (HB 1368), I will support using these federal funds to provide assistance to Washington families and businesses who have been most impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That means direct support for struggling renters, small restaurants and other neighborhood businesses, school districts, uninsured and underinsured individuals, and Black and Brown communities, which have been disproportionately hurt during the pandemic.

Thank you all for taking to the time to read this newsletter and for taking an interest in our progress in the House of Representatives. If you have any questions, inquiries, or concerns please feel free to contact me with the info below.


Shelley Kloba
Representative, 1st Legislative District