Following up on Friday’s post on the medical marijuana bill, there are a few additional items I wanted to comment on:
– In this AP report from Gene Johnson, I completely agree with Governor Gregoire’s comment at the end:
“She’s making a mistake,” said Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project. “The letter from the U.S. attorneys says that they can prosecute, not that they will prosecute. In Maine, in Rhode Island, in New Jersey, those states all went ahead and set up dispensary system. They haven’t received any threats or reaction from federal law enforcement.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, which has promoted the state’s legislation, echoed that.
Gregoire said it didn’t matter: “I don’t care what any other state does.”
This is unquestionably true, because if the Governor actually cared about what’s happened in other states, she would know that she’s about to make the same crucial mistake that allowed California’s system to become such a mess. Because it’s a large state with a lot of patients, California was the first state to have an underground dispensary system supplying patients and striving to do it in a legal way. At the time, the Bush Administration was absolutely clear about the issue. They would go after anyone trying to produce or sell medical marijuana. As a result, the state of California balked at establishing state-wide measures, and a bill was passed that allowed cities and counties to regulate it.
Many of those cities struggled to make regulations and they ended up with situations like Los Angeles – where they couldn’t establish regulations and ended up with over a thousand dispensaries throughout the city that they later tried to shut down – and like Morro Bay, where an honest dispensary operator who had the blessing of its community was railroaded by the feds. Even today, California’s system has problems and cities are still struggling to come up with appropriate regulations. One of the reasons that the Obama Administration changed their policy to take a more hands-off approach towards the state medical marijuana laws was so that this situation could be avoided and states could be free to regulate this better. They don’t like coming right out and saying that, so when they’re asked directly about their policy, they couch their response in language that explains that they “could” go after it without making it clear that Obama has specified that they won’t. And Governor Gregoire could easily figure this out for herself simply by looking at the other states that are regulating medical marijuana at the state level using state employees (like New Mexico, Colorado, New Jersey, and Rhode Island). But as she’s clearly stated, she “doesn’t care what any other state does”. And it will be us who pays for the Governor’s willful ignorance.
– Ironically, members of the Cannabis Defense Coalition also continue to support a veto of the bill. A big part of their opposition is from late amendments that strip away some protections from being searched and arrested and from greater emphasis on having people sign up in a patient registry, which is extremely unpopular among the organization’s members. No formal vote has been taken by the group, but I’d be surprised if even 25% of CDC members want this bill to pass. With that said, I want to explain my rationale for continuing to support the bill despite these amendments.
These amendments aren’t great (and I don’t like the registry), but they’re more illogical than dangerous. In the past, law enforcement have generally gone after patients for one of three reasons: 1. Because the patient is growing for himself or herself and law enforcement is convinced that they’re growing too much for it to be for one person. 2. Because law enforcement will see a patient as an soft target to roll over on a provider. 3. Because law enforcement simply doesn’t care about medical marijuana and sees all use as illegal.
Even though the late amendment from Rep. Christopher Hurst gives law enforcement greater ability to search and arrest people, the other parts of the bill cut off much of the rationale for law enforcement to go after patients for the first two reasons above. For instance, in the Snoqualmie case, a patient like Jeff Roetter (who died of an epileptic seizure as Snoqualmie police were squeezing him to testify against his provider) doesn’t have to be at risk of being used like a pawn in order to get to a bigger fish if he’s getting marijuana at state-licensed dispensary. And for people who live in areas where growing is still very risky (like the Olsons in Kitsap county), they no longer have to take that risk.
Even if this bill were to pass, though, I’d still expect a very small number of law enforcement officials in the state to go after patients for the third reason – purely out of a belief that medical marijuana is invalid and that patients are criminals. The initial bill had fines for law enforcement officials who did this, but those were stripped out right away. This is a problem that isn’t going to go away with any bill, at least not one that could pass the legislature. There are other potential problems with the bill (and they’re listed out here), but I still think the best approach is to pass this bill and fix those problems after we get a lay of the land rather than scrap this bill and try to start from scratch again.
– Finally, the Tacoma News Tribune’s latest comedic output is here. I could write a rather lengthy post pointing out all the factual inaccuracies and flaws in their logic, but I’ve done that before and don’t need to do that again.
I just want to cut to the heart of the matter, since the major difference between the “responsible medical marijuana bill” they touted on March 10 and the “Legislature’s plans to expand medical marijuana far beyond the voters’ original mandate” they referred to it as on April 17 is that dispensaries can now be for-profit. The only other major difference that I’m aware of is the supremacy of the state regulations, something that the city of Tacoma supports and which is vital to keep Washington’s system from looking more like California’s. So the question is, why is it such a problem for a marijuana dispensary to operate for profit? And why does this expand it beyond the voters’ original mandate? I realize that the Tacoma News Tribune probably isn’t interested in serious debate on this topic, but I know there are a lot of residents down there who are, and they’re not being served by a paper that hasn’t been willing to be serious on this topic for as long as I’ve been following it.