Pubdate: Sun, 05 Jun 2011
Source: Olympian, The (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Olympian
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


This state's medicinal marijuana law is a wreck. Attempts to clarify 
the voter-approved law during the 2011 legislative session imploded 
when the governor vetoed large portions of the measure aimed at 
legalizing cannabis dispensaries.

Between them, lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire have created quite a 
mess, increased uncertainty and left patients and suppliers totally 
confused about their legal status. Add in federal raids on marijuana 
dispensaries in Spokane and the people of this state are left with a 
jumbled mess that merits legislative action.

Now that lawmakers have completed their work for the year and adopted 
a balanced 2011-13 state operating budget, it's time for medicinal 
cannabis supporters like Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, to draw 
the players together to see where compromises can be found and 
clarity added to state law. If consensus can be reached, a bill 
should be ready to run early in the 2012 session. If the issue cannot 
wait until then and the feds continue their raids, a special one-day 
legislative session can be held to clarify the law and clean up the 
mess from the governor's veto.

This is one of those issues where there's no doubt where voters 
stand. After a feisty campaign in 1998, Washington voters made it 
clear that they wanted cancer patients to be able to use marijuana to 
combat nausea caused by chemotherapy. More than 1.1 million 
Washington voters approved Initiative 692 - 58.97 percent favorable 
vote - to authorize the use of medicinal marijuana for cancer and 
other patients.

Ever since, users and growers have been caught in a legal limbo - 
caught between the voter-approved initiative and federal drug laws 
that make no exception for the medicinal use of cannabis. This should 
be a states' rights issue and the feds should bow out. They certainly 
have a terrible record in combating illegal drug trafficking.

Washington state's original initiative didn't say explicitly that 
dispensaries are legal or illegal.

The Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 5073 which offered 
patient protections, authorized collective gardens, and allowed local 
cities and counties to adopt zoning and health regulations governing 
the production, processing and distribution of medicinal marijuana.

Definitions in the original law that medical marijuana supporters 
used to justify dispensaries were removed by legislators who thought 
they would be replacing them with a blueprint for a state-regulated 
supply and distribution system.

Old language referring to "designated providers" who provided 
cannabis to "only one patient at any one time" disappeared, taking 
one of the dispensaries' main claims for legitimacy with them.

The federal government raised the stakes on the issue, raiding 
marijuana dispensaries in Spokane the day before the governor was to 
take up the bill, which passed the House 54-43 and the Senate 27-21.

Gregoire was under intense pressure to both sign and veto the 
proposed legislation. U.S. attorneys in Western and Eastern 
Washington, Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, urged a veto saying 
state regulators would not be immune from prosecution by the federal 
government. That prompted the state's largest employee union to urge 
a gubernatorial veto, too.

The governor vetoed large portions of Senate Bill 5073 and as a 
result the state law is in tatters and confusion abounds.

Nathan Harris, manager of Tacoma's Best Alternative Medicine, a 
dispensary, says he doesn't know what to expect. "If the law says we 
have to close, we'll close," he said. "We're not trying to be a 
vigilante or anything. ...To tell the truth, I'm a little confused 
about what's going on right now."

He's not alone.

Mac McCloud, 56, of Yelm, a qualified medical marijuana patient, is 
right when he says, "People are going to smoke, no matter who sells 
it. If they close these dispensaries, the people that sell illegal 
drugs are going to be happy about it. The Mexican mafia will just 
make more money, because that's where most of these drugs are coming from."

Lawmakers have an obligation to clear up this mess. They didn't get a 
second bill passed in the 30-day special session in May because their 
full attention was focused on passing a balanced budget. But the 
interim between annual sessions is a perfect time to draft a proposed 
solution, hold public hearings, collect ideas and craft a bill that 
recognizes the will of the voters and does not subject public 
employees to the possibility of arrest. Surely reasonable minds can 
come to a reasonable solution to clear up the mess we have today.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom