In an editorial entitled “A Cheech and Chong ‘medical’ marijuana bill“, the Tacoma News-Tribune’s Patrick O’Callahan goes after the medical marijuana bill introduced by Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles and discussed last Thursday at the Capitol. O’Callahan’s editorial is fairly typical of the snide, dismissive editorializing that remains standard within many of our nation’s newspapers, but in the off-chance that anyone is taking this pile of nonsense seriously, I’d like to break it down and provide an informed perspective:
It must have taken some doing, but advocates of “medical” marijuana have come up with a bill that would actually invite more abuse of the drug than straightforward legalization.
Right away, O’Callahan starts with a mistaken premise. By assuming that even straightforward legalization “invites more abuse” of the drug, he ignores a significant amount of research showing that drug laws themselves have no demonstrable bearing on the amount of drug abuse a society encounters. And as has been pointed out numerous times over the years, the amount of marijuana use in Holland, a nation which has tolerated sales of marijuana in coffeeshops for over 35 years, has less marijuana use than the United States, where we arrest over 750,000 people per year just for possessing it.
Even worse, his editorial never fully explains how he came to this conclusion. He’s just spit-balling criticisms, hoping they’ll stick.
The “medical” belongs in quotation marks here, because the measure in Olympia would junk a key rule designed to prevent common drug seekers from getting marijuana on medical pretenses. And once recreational users or addicts got their pseudo-medical authorizations to use the drug, they’d enjoy more privileges than simple legalization would give them.
O’Callahan never specifies what the “key rule” is, so I can only guess at what he’s referring to. But in looking at the bill, and knowing how the system currently works, I can’t imagine any way in which it gets any easier or harder for someone to get a medical marijuana authorization under this bill. My best guess is that he’s referring to the removal of language that specified that a condition couldn’t be alleviated by other medicines in order for the authorization to hold up in court. But that never made a difference to doctors, only judges and prosecutors. And the language was removed precisely for that reason. A judge – or any other government employee – is not your doctor, and shouldn’t be in a position to second-guess doctors over what medicines you should be taking.
They’d be protected, for example, if ex-spouses objected to leaving children in their care; judges would not be permitted to consider marijuana use as a factor in custody arrangements except in extreme cases involving “long-term impairment” – whatever that means.
What that means is that if you get cancer and your doctor authorizes you to use marijuana to deal with the nausea you experience as you go through chemotherapy, your ex-wife or ex-husband can’t use that to prevent you from seeing your kids. That’s just one example, but there are many others that warrant this provision in the bill. If a parent is irresponsible or incapable of being a parent, that’s one thing. But the reality of medical marijuana is that most of the people who use it lead very normal lives and can function perfectly well as parents. They don’t get “high” from the drug and act loopy all day. In fact, if you want to see a good profile of a parent who uses medical marijuana, watch the CNBC documentary “Marijuana Inc”, where they interview a patient’s two sons who tell the reporter that medical marijuana “gave them their father back” because it allowed him to deal with his pain and lead a normal life. If you think that someone like that should be prevented from seeing his kids, your moral compass isn’t pointing north.
The bill would bring down the hammer of discrimination law on companies with anti-drug policies. Employers who refused to hire or employ marijuana users – the drug stays in the body long after use – could be investigated and sanctioned by the state Human Rights Commission.
As I mentioned after the hearing, this is one area where it’s possible the language of the bill will have to be reworked to be compatible with existing anti-discrimination rules (I’m far from an expert on that). But the intent of the clause is clear. Unless a job entails public safety, you shouldn’t be allowed to discriminate against someone simply because they’re authorized to use medical marijuana. Of course, if that person is not capable of doing their job because of their medical marijuana use, then companies should be free to either fire them or not hire them in the first place. Getting the proper balance here is difficult, but I thought this bill did a good job trying to find it.
That’s just scratching the surface of this amazing piece of legislation. It would also legalize large-scale commercial marijuana grow operations and wholesaling – no specified limits on quantity. Cities and counties would not be permitted to ban grow operations in their jurisdictions; the measure leaves all control over licensing to the state.
Oddly, this is the exact opposite criticism of Proposition 19, California’s initiative to fully legalize marijuana production. Proposition 19 left this up to the individual counties and cities, and the criticism was “Oh my god! This will create a patchwork of different laws across the state!” In this bill, we have one law for the state, and the criticism now is that cities and counties have no control. Huh? Not to mention that O’Callahan leaves out the fact that under this bill, cities and counties can use zoning laws to ensure that a production facility can only be located in an industrial or commercial area.
Growing, processing and selling could be conducted in secrecy. Call this one the Home-Buyer’s-Surprise Provision.
This is really the dumbest thing in the entire editorial. The reason that this bill is being introduced is precisely because the “growing, processing and selling” is “conducted in secrecy”. By licensing and regulating both growers and dispensaries, you take this industry out of the shadows and allow the cities and counties to establish the proper location for these activities to take place. This bill fixes the problem of having large numbers of grow operations hidden in people’s basements. The fact that O’Callahan thinks that this bill would cause that is the clearest indication that he doesn’t have the foggiest idea what the hell he’s talking about.
There’s more: Police officers would have to check state databases for medical marijuana licenses before responding on probable cause to “cannabis-related incidents” (also known, under federal law, as “crimes”).
I’m having trouble not getting too snarky about this, but this attitude is extraordinary and O’Callahan’s lack of understanding of the law is terrifying. For starters, our local police aren’t supposed to be enforcing federal laws, so the fact that marijuana is illegal under federal law is irrelevant to any law enforcement official in this state. Second, asking that a police officer check a database – before bursting into someone’s home with weapons – to see if the person they’re about to invade might be a law-abiding citizen is not unreasonable. In fact, it should be considered a very basic part of a police officer’s job.
Individual officers could be personally fined or sued for failure to do so. There’s no obvious reason this wouldn’t apply to, say, a cop who spots dope and money changing hands in a dark alley. Odd: The law doesn’t paint a legal bull’s-eye on officers for responding to “alcohol-related incidents.”
As far as I can tell, this is completely untrue. If a police officer sees a transaction between two people in a dark alley, the officer should be able to respond exactly the same way whether it’s alcohol or medical marijuana being purchased. Those transactions should not be occurring outside of licensed establishments.
The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, has been touted as a “clarification” of the legal status of the illegal marijuana dispensaries that Washington cities and counties – including Tacoma – have begun to tolerate.
The measure’s actual reach is far, far more sweeping; it amounts to legalization with privileges.
Again, O’Callahan says this but doesn’t provide any actual evidence to back it up. This bill does not change – in any way – the process by which an individual with one of the qualifying conditions goes to a doctor and gets an authorization. Recreational use is still illegal. The result of this bill won’t be an increase in the amount of medical marijuana users, it will be a better system for ensuring that those individuals can have a safe place to obtain it.
To legitimize the dispensaries, the logical first step would be to impose genuine medical-pharmaceutical rigor on the authorizations that allow people to acquire “medicinal” pot in the first place.
And that would be a wonderful thing that just about every medical marijuana patient would welcome, but sadly the Federal Government makes this impossible so long as marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug.
As things stand, a handful of clinics – often fly-by-night operations – do brief, assembly-line-style “exams” of marijuana seekers and churn out authorizations like factories. They rubber-stamp the documents – often for about $200 a pop – for users with nebulous complaints of “intractable pain.” These mills have been transforming who knows how many garden-variety marijuana smokers into “patients.”
The law permits little effective regulation, and no one has ever been sanctioned for over-authorizing marijuana. The lack of controls blurs the line between legitimate providers and money-hungry enablers.
I have no doubt that this happens. And I have no problem with medical boards coming down on doctors who do it. But this phenomenon has minimal effect on anyone. In some ways, it’s better that recreational users become medical users because then the money they spend on marijuana is more likely to go to a local business rather than a criminal organization. That’s why over half the people in Washington state just want it legalized for both medical and recreational use. But until that point, you’ll likely always find some subset of the medical profession who decide that money is more important than their integrity. Just like journalism.
Instead of tightening the process, Kohl-Welles’ bill would actually loosen it. Under the existing law – an initiative approved by the voters – marijuana is largely treated as a last resort to be used only when legal, conventional treatments and FDA-approved medications fail. Her measure would let it be used as a first resort.
As I mentioned above, this language was taken out because it was putting judges in a position to make medical determinations for the folks in their courtrooms. It’s odd that in a world where we’re so easily terrified of “death panels” and “government getting inbetween you and your doctor”, a newspaper is actually editorializing in favor of giving the government the ability to send you to jail for a health decision that you and your doctor agree upon. That’s stunning.
With this in place, any drug abuser who didn’t get his get-out-of-jail-free card would deserve to be arrested for sheer stupidity.
This is even more stunning. Regardless of how one feels about the language of the bill, believing that “drug abusers” belong in jail is a sign of complete moral bankruptcy. Hardly anyone in our society still believes that the proper way to deal with a drug addict is to send them to prison. Even worse, that’s still quite separate from the reality here. The vast majority of both medical and recreational marijuana users aren’t “abusers”. They aren’t destroying their lives with it. But to believe that the few who do abuse the drug will turn their life around if you send them to jail is beyond stupid. Seeing something that dumb in an editorial from one of the state’s largest newspapers is quite remarkable.
Words fail. This bill could have been written by Cheech and Chong 30 tokes past midnight. Any lawmaker inclined to support it should make a point of reading it first.
I’m not sure what else there is to say. The sad reality is that people this clueless and blindly ideological are still employed by the major newspapers of this state, even as they’ve been under intense pressure to trim budgets. Like O’Callahan, I strongly encourage every lawmaker to read this bill, and if they have as much trouble as O’Callahan did in understanding it, I’d encourage them to do something he didn’t do: talk to someone who’s actually knowledgeable about medical marijuana and the history of how the law has worked in this state.
UDPATE: I was just sent this clarification to the “long-term impairment” part of O’Callahan’s editorial over email:
[T]he “long-term impairment” that confuses Mr. O’Callahan is exactly the same “long-term impairment” already described in the statutory provision allowing judges to preclude or limit visitation based on a parent’s struggles with “drug, alcohol, or substance abuse,” RCW 26.09.191(3)(c). Family law judges and attorneys are quite familiar with it.