Last night’s Cannabis Defense Coalition public meeting saw another large crowd. For the second month in a row, I moderated the meeting. The discussion was recorded and the audio should be posted up at the CDC webpage soon (UPDATE: It’s posted).
As expected, the main focus of the discussion was about the medical marijuana bill, SB 5073, which has been amended and re-amended a number of times so far. In its most recent incarnation, it provides for arrest protection for non-registered patients in only the most superficial sense. It prevents law enforcement from taking you to jail, but it doesn’t stop them from searching your house or charging you – and forcing you to use your affirmative defense in court. Of course, signing up for the registry gives you complete arrest protection, but the general sense from most patients is that signing up for the registry is a absolute non-starter, as these lists often end up in the wrong hands.
This dilemma of trust is really the heart of the remaining disagreements with the bill in its current form. The bill represents an attempt to craft a system that protects patients, but many of them are still convinced that they won’t be protected from overzealous law enforcement. For instance, the medical language in sections 301.2a and 2b were written with the help of a physician who had worked on the initial voter initiative in 1998. From a purely technical standpoint, the language of the bill should protect doctors who recommend and authorize medical marijuana use. But from an historical standpoint, there remains a lot of concern that doctors who do so will still be targeted, and that even well-written regulations will be enough to make doctors wary of inviting suspicion. As an example, Douglas Hiatt brought up Grant County, where law enforcement has repeatedly reported legitimate doctors to MQAC because they still believe that any authorization of medical marijuana is improper.
At the meeting, Alison Holcomb of the ACLU of Washington defended the language concerning doctors in Section 301, and assured everyone that doctors wouldn’t be targeted. It’s very possible she’s right and that the concerns expressed by the doctors who’ve been at the last two meetings won’t materialize. The ACLU has been a main driving force for this bill, and yesterday distributed this flyer in support. As has always been the case within drug law reform in Washington state, the ACLU has been more willing to work directly with institutional actors and to believe that they’ll act in good faith, while many in the patient community are more wary. The truth ends up being somewhere in the middle, with cases of law enforcement overreach and administrative cruelty that shock us, but with conditions slowly getting better for patients as we move forward. Much of the problem is one of culture and perception, something that the law can’t address.
One good illustration of this came at the end of the meeting, when defense attorney Kurt Boehl discussed a case he’s currently working on in Bellevue, where a medical marijuana patient used his marijuana while parked in the Bellevue Square parking lot. Very wisely, instead of using his marijuana before he drove, he waited until he got to his destination. The man had tinted windows, but opened his sunroof to allow for ventilation. Unfortunately, some Bellevue Police officers climbed to a high vantage point to see through his sunroof and claimed that he was using his medical marijuana in public view. In this environment, where many police officers are so eager to play gotcha with the law, it’s not hard to understand why many are wary of protections that are anything less than absolute.
Those debates aside, however, there remains one aspect of the bill that is truly bad and needs to be fixed. It’s the “lottery” provision that puts an artificially low cap on the number of dispensaries and could allow for a system where licenses are either given out randomly or to well-connected folks looking for easy profits, as has just happened in New Jersey. We need to push for a system that allows medical marijuana dispensaries to compete and fail based upon how well they serve customers, not based upon whether they possess the only license in town. Establishing a system where dispensaries are protected from competition is the best way to see them artificially inflate their prices and not give a crap about the people who rely on them.