This guest Slog post is by Ben Livingston, a board member of the Cannabis Defense Coalition activist cooperative.
Washington State voters overwhelmingly passed a medical cannabis law in 1998. Over a decade later, the general consensus among patients, providers, police and prosecutors is that the law needs a fix. Patients lack reliable, safe and affordable access to quality cannabis. Providers are routinely raided by police and robbed by criminals. Police lack clear guidelines and often view providers as skirting the law. Prosecutors are forced to sort out the mess.
As the law stands, not one medical cannabis patient in Washington State is safe from arrest. The law allows a defense at trial only, not protection from arrest. Our state Supreme Court ruled last year that showing police a valid medical cannabis authorization—which is required by law if one is to use this defense—is grounds for the cops to detain and search a patient or provider.
For the first time ever, the Washington State Legislature is considering "omnibus" medical cannabis legislation. Senate Bill 5073, and its companion House Bill 1100, would completely overhaul our state's dysfunctional medical cannabis law. A senate committee is discussing SB 5073 and taking public testimony today.
The bill would license dispensaries through the Department of Health, and cannabis growers through the Department of Agriculture. Visitors from other medical cannabis states get an affirmative defense where they used to just get ankle bracelets. Patients on probation stop being victimized by Attorney General Rob McKenna's attempts to undermine I-692 through Department of Corrections policy. Medical scientists at the University of Washington would be explicitly protected in conducting research on cannabinoid medicine—a field in which the intellectual giant is at the forefront.
Under the terms of this bill, parents would be protected from losing their kids because of medical cannabis. We would finally stop denying organ transplants to pot patients, and stop evicting them from housing. The bill would preempt local jurisdictions—like Edmonds—from banning dispensaries in their town, allowing them instead to set reasonable zoning restrictions.
But most importantly, SB 5073 would protect patients from arrest. This is what makes this bill important. Fear and violence pervade the medical cannabis community, fueled by a constant threat of arrest and home invasion. Patients must be afforded the protection of our police and courts. They must feel safe calling 911. We must stop treating them as criminals, because they are not criminals.
More than that even, we must stop treating them as criminals because this fear, and this violence, and these feelings of criminality will not help any of us heal cancer. It won't help control epileptic seizure, and it won't help keep food in a wasting patient's stomach. Arrest protection is how we help dissipate this fear and violence. Arrest protection is what this bill is about, and it is why we support SB 5073.
The Senate Health and Long-Term Care Committee will hold a hearing on SB 5073 today at 1:30 p.m. in the Cherberg Building on the Capitol Campus, 304 15th Ave SW in Olympia.