On Sunday, I met with a group of this state’s registered medical marijuana patients, activists, and attorneys in downtown Seattle. It was the first time meeting many of the folks who I’ve heard about through various emails regarding court dates, trials, and other problems that this community still has to deal with. It’s been ten years since the voters of this state made it clear that we believe their medical choices are valid and should be protected by the law. Despite the intent of that voter initiative, people who have been certified by their doctors to use medical marijuana to help combat a variety of life threatening illnesses and severe disabilities are still being prosecuted across the state. I was overwhelmed by the amount of information shared at the meeting and I want to summarize what I was able take away from it:
- The prosecution of Pam Olson (which is starting this week in Port Orchard) was on everyone’s mind and was the first topic of discussion. Both Olson and her husband were arrested last year and will face trial separately (Bruce’s is scheduled for June). Many people were concerned about the tactics of the drug task force. Before raiding their home, the task force members put poisoned meat in their yard to make sure that their dogs wouldn’t be a problem. The Olson’s then had to spend $2000 in veterinary bills for their two puppies. As a consequence of their arrest, they were forced to sell their home to pay for their legal fees. The Olson’s were fully authorized by a doctor to use medical marijuana, but the judge at the trial today may decide that the defense cannot reference the state law that protects her as a patient. Anyone who can be present at subsequent hearings is strongly encouraged to go to Kitsap County Superior Court and show support. This page will be updated with information.
- Another older woman, who was maybe 90 pounds, talked about her ordeal with the authorities. After her house was raided by the police, it was broken into again soon after. She lives a mile down a private road. When she had to sell her home, she was forced to use a real estate agent who just happened to be the brother of the person who led the drug task force. Thankfully, she did not get sentenced to any jail time.
- There were no doctors at the meeting that I was aware of, but a number of patients discussed the risks that doctors still face for authorizing medical marijuana use. There is an atmosphere of intimidation from insurance companies and the state (more on that later) to keep doctors from openly advocating its use. Many patients said that their doctors will tell them that they have no problem with it, but can’t officially authorize it. This appears to be a bigger problem here than in other medical marijuana states.
- People are still being kicked off of organ transplant queues because of their medical marijuana use. This was a matter of life and death for at least one person in the room, and another case involving someone who wasn’t there was discussed and is expected to be reported in the traditional media soon.
- One thing that caught me by surprise was that the patients feel that things have gotten far worse under Attorney General Rob McKenna than they were when Governor Gregoire was the Attorney General. I expected there to be more anger towards the Governor and the Legislature considering the disappointment over SB 6032, but any lingering animosity wasn’t showing.
- People within this community often differ very strongly over strategy. Like any movement, it has moderates and extremists who often sense that the other side is harming the movement. Some within the group see all law enforcement and justice officials as the enemy. Others recognize that there are allies within that group who they can work with. Within the former group, there’s now a very strong push to initiate lawsuits – particularly directed at Attorney General McKenna, who is openly carrying out the Bush Administration’s battle against medical marijuana in defiance of our voter-approved state law. If even a fraction of what was discussed in this meeting is true and comes out in court, Clay Bennett could unseat him in November.
- The State Department of Health still hasn’t released the defined limits that patients will be allowed to have according to SB 6032. There were equal parts optimism and pessimism over whether the limits would be adequate. There was also some confusion over whether the limits would need to be re-approved by the legislature. I’ll have to follow up on this when I learn more (and I really have to remember to bring notebooks to these things). [UPDATE: See comment #2 below]
- On a more personal note, seeing people in wheelchairs and with other severe illnesses talking about how much they fear the police or about how fervently the prosecutors in this state are still trying to send them to jail is just a jarring experience. When polled on this subject, overwhelming majorities of this state’s residents support the legality of this medicine and believe doctors should be allowed to authorize it, but that hasn’t translated to real justice for any of these folks. What the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice is doing (and which Rob McKenna’s office is faithfully following) is inexcusable. It’s really hard not to think of it as a human rights violation. I find it absolutely beyond comprehension that we have prosecutors in this state who believe that they are serving the public by going after these people.