Washington Medical Marijuana Law Needs Fixing
More than 12 years after Washington state voters approved the use of marijuana for medical purposes for those who had terminal or debilitating illnesses and a doctor’s authorization, patients in most of the state still have no clear, legal way to safely acquire cannabis.
The ballot measure legalizing marijuana to treat certain conditions was approved by voters in 1998. But what must have seemed like a simple decision to the nearly 60 percent of voters who favored the measure is still being sorted out as patients are left waiting, editorializes the Tri-City Herald newspaper in Kennewick, Washington.
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) is drafting a bill for the next session of the Legislature that could finally make the dream of safe access for patients come true. Kohl-Welles is working with patients, advocates and others as she tries to resolve the issue.
“For a long, long time I have wanted to do whatever I can to provide clarification in the law and address the issues that are paramount to patients and caregivers — how they can access a safe and reliable supply of medical marijuana,” Kohl-Welles recently told Tri-City Herald reporter Michelle Dupler.
Unfortunately, that’s not how things work today, despite a huge majority of state voters having approved medical marijuana.
Patients suffering from terminal or debilitating illnesses are allowed to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana with a written authorization from their doctor. But in most of of the state it’s almost impossible to obtain cannabis legally.
As a result, most patients who need marijuana to ease their suffering are forced to resort to the same black market that supplies illicit drug users.
Even worse, following the rules doesn’t mean patients won’t be arrested for marijuana possession. Washington’s medical marijuana law only offers an “affirmative defense” to pot charges, which means patients can theoretically be harassed and arrested over and over for no better reason than their home smells like the (legal) marijuana they are using under their physician’s care.
That’s no way to treat sick people. The additional stressors of arrest and having to show up in court to present an affirmative defense are the last thing patients need when they are already fighting for their lives.
That’s a big flaw in the current law which Kohl-Welles hopes to fix with legislation next year.
“I don’t think it’s right to have patients arrested,” Kohl-Welles said. “That doesn’t make sense to me.”
There is already a functioning dispensary system in Washington — in the city of Seattle, medical marijuana collectives aren’t pursued by King County District Attorney Dan Satterberg. Patients enjoy safe access, and the sky hasn’t fallen.
That’s a working model for the rest of the state. It’s long past time for Washington’s medical marijuana patients to have safe access to their medicine, exactly as voters intended 12 years ago.
About the author: Steve Elliott, a working journalist since 1982, is editor of Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media’s site of cannabis news, views, rumor and humor. Chicks dig him.