It looks like this is going to be a busy week for me. There are a number of drug war related stories happening across the state that I want to follow, but I definitely want to address this editorial that appeared on the Tacoma News-Tribune editorial page last week. Specifically this part:
California was already becoming notorious for effectively legalizing recreational dope-smoking through its extremely lax medical marijuana law. Washingtonians were offered their own loophole-riddled marijuana initiative in 1997, and they resoundingly rejected it.
The one they did pass the next year, Initiative 692, was explicitly designed to forbid the California-style dispensaries that operate like commercial marijuana shops. Its sponsors touted its safeguards, including a provision that let a “primary caregiver” provide limited amounts of marijuana to a patient under conditions that precluded drug-dealing.
The key language required a caregiver to “possess no more marijuana that is necessary for the patient’s personal, medical use” and “be the primary caregiver to only one patient at any one time.”
The meaning seems crystal clear: No multi-customer operations. But McCrea and other dispensary advocates have seized on those last four words. In their view, it sounds like, “any one time” means any time a buyer walks through the door.
Accept that logic, and Washington takes a long step toward the wide-open drug-dealing now rampant in California, where some compliant doctors hang out their shingles near dispensaries and pass out marijuana cards to anyone with a vaguely plausible physical complaint.
There’s one point I can’t argue. Marijuana is essentially legal in California right now. The list of qualifying conditions that a person can obtain it for in that state is long enough that any recreational user can become a medical user. Depression, insomnia, whatever, there are doctors throughout the state that will – for a fee, of course! – certify you as a medical marijuana patient. And just about anyone who has used marijuana recreationally discovers that it has some side medical benefits as well, so it’s not hard to tell a doctor, “Yeah, it helps me sleep”, or “Man, it really gets rid of my stomach aches”.
People can complain all they want that this full-scale legalization happened under the guise of ensuring that sick people can have access to a medicinal plant that they find extremely valuable, but that’s irrelevant now. What we see now is that nothing really changed. All of the reasons that were given for not simply legalizing it for recreational use in the first place weren’t valid. Marijuana is legal there, and it has made no difference in how that state functions (or malfunctions). We haven’t seen any huge spikes in use, and in fact the percentages of teenagers who use marijuana in California have been dropping sharply since the medical marijuana laws were put in place.
That point aside, the major flaw with the News-Tribune editorial is that it just assumes that implementing a dispensary system in Washington will turn us into California. There’s no basis for that observation. Washington has a far more limited set of ailments that allow a person to become an authorized patient. I could easily become a medical marijuana cardholder in California, but would not be able to here. Without that long list of accepted ailments, recreational users in Washington would still have to obtain marijuana from criminal organizations. And for reasons that make absolutely no sense to anyone, this appears to be the way that the idiots at the Tacoma News-Tribune want it.
In all of the arguing over the law and hyperbole about what’s happening in California, it’s the folks who use medical marijuana for truly serious ailments who are once again forgotten. Today, I spoke on the phone with the woman at the center of the Grant County case, Rosa Dossett. Living in a very rural part of the state, obtaining supplies of marijuana is not a trivial task, so she relied on her son to grow for her. Her son, David Hagar (who Dossett says does not even use marijuana himself), has been raided twice by Grant County police (he’s also accused of theft). Grant County police also allegedly told Dossett that even with her authorization, she’s still not allowed to use marijuana. If that happened as she said, the police simply lied to her.
Dossett is a cancer survivor and suffers from osteo-arthritis. Her main medical use for the drug now is to manage the constant pain from osteo-arthritis. Unlike a lot of other drugs, the effectiveness of a pain reliever is pretty clear to people. If a pain reliever doesn’t work, you know damn well that it doesn’t work. That’s why I’m always amazed when I see people questioning the efficacy of this drug. Dossett has found that she prefers marijuana to drugs like Hydrocodone because it’s natural, more effective, less chemically addictive, and it can be grown for far less money than what prescription pharmaceuticals cost. Unfortunately, the language of the medical marijuana law allows a judge to decide whether pain patients can use marijuana instead of a pharmaceutical alternative.
It shouldn’t be up to judges or the police to decide which medicines we choose to use. That should be left up to doctors and patients. Some of the leading researchers when it comes to using marijuana for medicinal purposes are based right here at the University of Washington. Here’s a recent study from the Journal of Opioid Management by six UW researchers on the numerous studies showing the efficacy of marijuana. The question of whether or not people in this state with a legitimate medical need should have access to this plant for medical uses has been settled in the minds of the electorate for over ten years. It’s the responsibility of both the Legislature and the Governor to finally translate that legitimacy into a system that works.
UPDATE: It appears that SeattleJew decided to check in from his land of merry make-believe in an attempt to discredit the authors of the Journal of Opioid Management report linked above. One of the researchers, Dr. Sunil Aggarwal has responded with a comment here listing out references to 33 separate clinical trials that have demonstrated the value of marijuana as medicine.
UPDATE 2: Attorney Douglas Hiatt emails me to say that the law does not allow a judge to substitute their medical opinion for a doctor’s, and he expects the court ruling I linked to above to be overturned.