Northwest Marijuana Guide
Can the Medical Pot Law Be Saved?
Olympia Looks Intent on Repealing Rights for Sick and Dying
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In mid-October, a work group created by the legislature announced recommendations that would gut the medical cannabis law approved by Washington State voters in 1998.
In addition to eliminating medical marijuana dispensaries, the advisory group's proposal would: (1) terminate the rights of patients to grow cannabis at home, (2) block legal defenses in court raised by patients who use cannabis under a doctor's supervision, (3) reduce possession limits from 24 ounces to three ounces, (4) require doctors to register pot patients with the state, (5) forbid doctors from specializing in medical cannabis, and (6) negate every pot authorization in the state when retail pot stores open.
Part of the stated goal is implementing Initiative 502, which is the recreational marijuana law passed last fall that will allow for strictly regulated retail stores. But that recreational pot law says nothing about medical marijuana.
The work group represents various government interests (including the state's departments of health, revenue, and liquor). Governor Jay Inslee's senior policy adviser took a seat on the work group—which met in secret and claimed to be exempt from public disclosure laws—and appears to have approved all of these proposals.
To be absolutely clear, the state's medical marijuana law was never supposed to be governed by the liquor board or revenue department. And I-502's language was not intended to affect the medical marijuana law—not by those who sponsored it or the voters who passed it. Yet opportunistic bureaucrats are using I-502 as justification to remove such basic rights as legal defenses and home cultivation for the sick and dying.
The question is if the sponsors of I-502—which was led by the ACLU of Washington—will demonstrate the willpower to stop them. After all, the ACLU insisted that I-502 would not result in any change to the medical marijuana law.
However, the drafter of I-502, ACLU's Alison Holcomb, seems to frown on medical dispensaries, saying, "We do not believe the unlicensed and unregulated sale of untested products to patients with terminal and debilitating medical conditions is good policy." She adds that the recreational stores allowed by I-502 "will serve the important needs of people who use marijuana for medicine."
Nonetheless, Holcomb says the ACLU will be "taking a serious posture toward the liquor control board recommendations. We will submit and publicize our response, one that will clearly oppose specific proposals we think would be detrimental—e.g., we oppose the elimination of home growing and the elimination of the affirmative defense, both of which have been important protections for patients." She says the ACLU will also continue to defend patients through litigation.