Pubdate: Sat, 04 Jul 2009
Source: Federal Way Mirror (WA)
Copyright: 2009 Sound Publishing
Author: Andy Hobbs, Federal Way Mirror Editor* *


Part 5 of series

The Overton Window refers to a range of ideas considered acceptable at
a particular moment.

The theory was named after Joe Overton, former vice president for a
conservative think tank. He believed lawmakers were constrained by the
political climate, which could be changed by educating both lawmakers
and the public.

Rhetoric shapes and shifts the Overton Window. Under this concept, the
promotion of extreme ideas makes formerly fringe ideas appear more
acceptable. At the same time, ideas that were once acceptable become
fringe or extreme. The Overton Window moves along a yard stick that
represents two extremes of a certain political issue.

The public's perception of marijuana has shifted significantly since
the 1937 Marijuana Tax Act, which is credited for leading the
criminalization of cannabis on a federal level. Since 1996, 13 states
have adopted legal rights for medical marijuana patients.

State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) was a key player behind
Washington state's medical marijuana laws in 1998 and 2008.

In 2010, she plans to introduce legislation that outlines how patients
can legally distribute, grow and obtain cannabis, she said. The
discussion will include the possibility of a state registry, she said.

Kohl-Welles became a believer after witnessing the drug's effects on
her best friend, who was dying of cancer in 1998. The friend's
oncologist at Swedish Medical Center recommended marijuana.

"She took a couple of puffs, and she could take some soup and water,
where before she couldn't due to the effects of radiation therapy,"
said Kohl-Welles, who was first elected to the state Senate in 1995.

In Olympia, she finds legislators on both sides of the aisle who
advocate for medical marijuana rights. Kohl-Welles said she is not
afraid of any stigmas associated with the issue - a luxury she owes to
the overwhelmingly progressive 36th District that elected her.
However, some legislators avoid the medical marijuana issue out of
fear that such support could come back to haunt them. Some legislators
see marijuana as an addictive gateway drug, and nothing more.

"People have very strongly held views about marijuana that I think are
unreasonable," said Kohl-Welles, who holds a Ph.D. in Sociology of
Education. "That's part of the cultural situation about drugs in this
country. Even though this is a natural plant, it's very challenging to
effect social change when you've got myths and misconception."

Under the radar

Most medical marijuana patients started as recreational

A thirty-something woman lives in a respectable middle class
neighborhood near the King County Aquatic Center. The Federal Way
resident is growing 36 plants in an upstairs bedroom, all kept secret
from neighbors.

"I like growing my own. I get the best quality," said the woman, who
asked to remain anonymous.

Since childhood, she has suffered from joint hypermobility syndrome,
among other ailments. Her prescriptions cover depression, anxiety,
inflammation, fibromyalgia and muscle pain. She also lives off
benefits from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

However, it was a minor bust and a night in jail that prompted her to
seek medical authorization. A police officer caught her smoking pot in
the car with friends, she said. Eventually, she was volunteering for a
cannabis clinic by tending gardens.

State laws are in conflict with the federal government's
classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug, even with a doctor's
recommendation. Even if marijuana were full-blown "legalized" in
Washington state, the Federal Way woman would remain private about her
use - and skeptical of law enforcement.

"I always fear waking up to some federal agent shoving a gun in my

Unlike the medical marijuana dispensaries that opened recently in
Spokane, most clinics operate under the radar.

A clinic on the Eastside held a barbecue last month, attracting
hundreds of patients. The middle-aged clinic owner roamed his suburban
house with a wooden pipe. He foresees multiple business opportunities
as the legal window for marijuana continues to shift in his favor. He
also welcomes a free market approach to cannabis where competition
will lower prices and raise quality.

People of all ages attended the barbecue, including many college-age
adults. The front door stayed open, and a welcome mat with a giant
cannabis leaf adorned the entrance. A cluster of plants swayed in the
breeze by the back porch, with lots more growing inside.

Volunteers at the clinic tended to patients, parking and security.
Several young "patients" noted it was their first time at the house.

With the right combination of cash and signatures, the patients can go
downstairs to a room that doubles as a store. A dry-erase board
displays the prices for edibles, and there are even marijuana-themed
videos for sale. A young couple occupies two seats in front of the
counter, each holding a rolled-up baggie of buds.

In the dining room upstairs, a petite and cheery Asian woman loads pot
into a vaporizer. The contraption inflates a big clear bag that's
equipped with a plastic dispenser. The mix of friends and strangers
passes the bag around, taking turns inhaling. The young woman declares
that everyone is smoking the "strawberry cough" strain. Moments later,
she is standing still in the front yard, giggling for a few minutes at
a pitbull rolling around in the grass. Back at the kitchen table, a
young man visits the clinic for the first time over a back injury, he
said. He snickers when asked about the injury, acknowledging the
correct lingo with a wink: "Yeah, that's right, I'm a patient."

On the front porch, an attractive blonde in her early 20s lights a
cigarette, eager to make conversation upon her arrival from
Bellingham. This is also her first time at the clinic, which she
discovered online. She tells another smoker about wanting to treat the
after-effects of a miscarriage.

In the kitchen, a suit-clad doctor chats with the clinic's owner. In
fact, not only is he the clinic owner, but he's also a patient. The
doctor, who writes recommendations for the clinic's patients,
complimented the owner on some cannabis-infused crackers.

In this temporary role reversal, it is the patient who medicates the
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr