At Hempfest last weekend, posters titled “What’s Gregoire Smoking?” were being circulated through the massive crowds of people checking out the nation’s largest pro-pot gathering. The posters are advertising a rally for the hearing that the state Department of Health will be holding in Tumwater on Monday to discuss the proposed draft limits for medical marijuana patients.
The limits were patterned after Oregon’s limits, and while their limits have managed to protect their patients (even ones who require more than the limits allow), there are some differences between our system and theirs, the major ones being that providers can grow for multiple patients and that there’s a state-run registry system for patients that the police respect. The Cannabis Defense Coalition, a newly formed group of activists working together to protect patients from arrest (I’m a member), details some of the concerns with having to rely primarily on the limits to protect the patients:
1. The definition of a “mature” plant as any plant that reaches twelve inches in height is neither reasonable, nor grounded in science.
2. The new rules as written are absolute upper bounds, not “presumptive amounts” as mandated by SB-6032. If a patient has more than the presumptive amount, the new rules require a doctor to state the amount of marijuana required by that patient. This is illegal under the federal Conant v. Walters case, and doctors risk losing their federal licenses if they abide by this state requirement. This will have a disastrous effect on the legality of medical marijuana in Washington State.
3. That the limit of six “mature plants” — is too low. Cannabis typically takes 8 or more weeks to mature once blooming is triggered. Most patients produce 1-2 ounces per plant, or 6-12 ounces for their 60-day supply. Blooming at twelve inches will decrease yield to under half an ounce per plant, or less than 3 ounces for a sixty day supply.
These numbers are far less than the 24 ounces of dried medicine allowed for under the new rules. In short, the new rules do not honestly take into account the real world mathematics of marijuana growing, let alone the non-scientific, arbitrary limit on plant height written into the rules at the request of Governor Chris Gregoire.
On Saturday at the Hemposium tent, the area of Hempfest where music takes a back seat to politics, there was a lively panel of patients, activists, and attorneys discussing what happened during the process and what still needs to be done to make sure that patients stop getting arrested around the state. During the session, Douglas Hiatt – a local attorney who represents patients across the state – introduced Robert Dalton, a qualified patient who was not only arrested by Kitsap County authorities but may also lose a quarter-million dollars worth of his property.
Among the panelists, there was little disagreement over how we got into this mess. The State Department of Health originally came to a very workable proposal for the limits, 35 ounces and a 10ft by 10ft growing area. The Governor then told the DOH to solicit more input from doctors and law enforcement. The proposed limits were far more restrictive, and as Hiatt pointed out, every patient he knows is now at risk of arrest, and that some arrests have already taken place in Spokane County.
Where there’s a lot of disagreement is on why the Governor stepped into the process and told the Department of Health to revise the numbers. Some are chalking it up to cluelessness or apathy, but others think the Governor is deliberately making the limits unworkable in order to keep law enforcement happy (although Steve Sarich, the loudest voice in that camp, had to be corrected by the crowd when he asserted that every single police group in Washington State supports Gregoire, which we know pretty well by now is not true).
After getting a chance to ask the Governor about this mess in person at her recent pop-in to Drinking Liberally, I’m still in the camp that chalks this up to cluelessness and apathy. I don’t think she understands how disingenuous the concerns from law enforcement are, and I don’t get the impression that she cares enough about authorized patients getting arrested. After I pressed the issue, she said that if patients continue to get arrested after the limits are set that she’d work with the police chiefs to have the situation resolved. However, when you have rogue prosecutors like Russell Hauge in Kitsap County, I’m not sure how much the Governor can do.
Monday’s hearing is at 11AM at the Department of Health offices at 310 Israel Rd. SE in Tumwater. This may be the last chance to get this right, so whether you care about protecting patients or just don’t like law enforcement wasting more of your taxpayer dollars to throw sick people in jail, it’s your chance to be heard.