The three state agencies and the governor's office that constitute the state's medical marijuana working group on Monday released their draft recommendations for dealing with medical marijuana in the era of legal marijuana possession and state-licensed marijuana stores under the I-502 initiative. Their recommendations would essentially gut the existing medical marijuana system, and patients and advocates are crying foul.
[image:1 align:left caption:true]The recommendations from the State Liquor Control Board (which is in charge of implementing the I-502 regime), the Department of Health, and the Department of Revenue would allow state-registered patients to purchase tax-exempt marijuana from the 334 stores envisioned under I-502, but would also reduce the amount patients could possess from 24 ounces to three ounces, require doctors to register patients with the state, remove the affirmative defense for medical marijuana patients, and end the right to petition for new medical conditions to be added.
The recommendations also call for eliminating the right of patients to grow their own, either individually or collectively, require existing dispensaries to comply with I-502 regulations, and force out of business those that can't. That would bring the state's medical marijuana system in line with I-502's no home grow provision.
While I-502 only envisions legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over, the recommendations would allow 18-to-20-year-olds to use medical marijuana, but patients under the age of 18 would only be allowed to use it with parental consent and could only possess one dose at a time.
The state agencies will make their final recommendations by January 1, when they must send a final report to the state legislature, but in the meantime, they are taking for public comment between now and November 8. They can expect to get an earful from an angry medical marijuana community.
"Washington was one of the first states in the nation to recognize that patients under a physician's care have the right to use medical marijuana," said Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access (ASA). "The needs of this vulnerable population are distinctly different from the wants of recreational users and it's vital that elected officials understand the difference."
ASA, which worked with local activists to create the Health Before Happy Hour campaign to try to ensure that medical marijuana patients don't get run over by the legalization bus, is also holding a series of stakeholder meeting to mobilize the community and protect what it views as its hard-won rights. Those meetings will be held between October 27 and 30 in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima.
ASA created that campaign in part because of ominous portents coming from state officials and other key players. In May, Liquor Control Board spokesman Brian Smith warned that competition from the medical marijuana market will pose "a challenge" to the viability of the state's new recreational program, while state Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, more recently called the medical marijuana industry "a sham," and urged the task force to recommend that all of the state's dispensaries be shut down.
Then, Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs chimed in to claim that "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long." As if that weren't enough, the DEA continues to raid dispensaries, and US Attorneys continue to menace patients and providers. US Attorney Jenny Durkan qualified the state's medical marijuana system as "untenable," and vowed to shut down the dispensaries.
"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," said Paul Feldman, who experiences relief with the help of medical marijuana. "It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax," continued Feldman. "No other medication is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn't be either."
Instead of gutting the medical marijuana program, the Health Before Happy Hour campaign is calling for a system of state-licensed and regulated dispensaries outside the scope of I-502. The campaign is supporting legislation similar to Senate Bill 5073, the proposal previously sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) which was partially vetoed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire (D).
[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]
Support for marijuana legalization is at the highest levels ever, with 58% of Americans in favor, according to a Gallup poll released Tuesday. That's up an impressive eight points from 2011, when Gallup had 50% supporting legalization, and even more impressively, up 10 points from last year, when support had dipped to 48% in the annual poll.
The poll results are generally in line with other polls in the past couple of years that have shown half or more of Americans are ready to free the weed. As Gallup's own annual polls suggest, after support for legalization stayed around one-quarter of the population in the 1980s and 1990s, momentum has picked up since the turn of the century. Then, only 31% supported legalization; now nearly double that number are ready for it.
Gallup pointed at movement toward support of legalization by independents, now at 62% and up a big 12 points since last year. Support also increased among Democrats, from 61% to 65%, while among Republicans, only 35% favored it, although that, too, was up over last year, by a couple of points.
The pollster also singled out strong support among younger Americans and rapidly increasing -- although still not majority -- support among senior citizens. Two-thirds (67%) of 18-to-29-year-olds said legalize it, as did 62% of 30-to-49-year-olds and 56% of 50-to-64-year-olds. Only 45% of seniors agreed, but that was up a whopping 14 points over 2012.
Gallup offered several explanations for the upswing, including the victories in Washington and Colorado last year, the Obama administration's relatively soft-shoe approach to the matter, and increasing social and cultural acceptance of the plant (a sizeable 38% admitted to having tried it), driven in part by medical marijuana.
"It has been a long path toward majority acceptance of marijuana over the past 44 years, but Americans' support for legalization accelerated as the new millennium began," Gallup said in summarizing the poll results. "This acceptance of a substance that most people might have considered forbidden in the late 1960s and 1970s may be attributed to changing social mores and growing social acceptance. The increasing prevalence of medical marijuana as a socially acceptable way to alleviate symptoms of diseases such as arthritis, and as a way to mitigate side effects of chemotherapy, may have also contributed to Americans' growing support."
"The latest poll results point to the absurdity and even venality of persisting with harsh prohibitionist policies," said Ethan Nadelmann, the Alliance's executive director. "No other law is enforced so harshly and pervasively yet deemed unnecessary by so many Americans. Spending billions of dollars and arresting 750,000 people annually for violating marijuana laws now represents not just foolish public policy but also an inappropriate and indecent use of police powers to favor one side of a cultural and political debate."
"The American people have opened their eyes to the failure that is marijuana prohibition and there is no putting the genie back in the bottle. Following the successful passage of marijuana legalization initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012, the people of this country see that a new approach to marijuana policy is both required and possible," said NORML communications director Erik Altieri. "The majority of Americans agree that prohibition has failed and it is time to legalize and regulate. The issue can no longer be ignored or sidelined. Legalization is now the mainstream position and supporters of perpetuating our war on marijuana will continue to be further relegated to the fringe."
"The dramatically increasing support for making marijuana legal should come as no surprise," said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Marijuana prohibition has been an abject failure. Most Americans realize it is unjust, wasteful, and counterproductive to invest in the criminalization of adults for using a substance that is far less harmful than alcohol."
"The passage of adult-use marijuana initiatives in Colorado and Washington has demonstrated widespread disillusion with marijuana prohibition," noted Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association. "The success of regulated medical and adult-use marijuana markets in 17 states and DC is replacing criminal enterprises with legal and responsible businesses that generate millions in tax revenue and tens of thousands of good jobs. It's no surprise that 58% of Americans now support bringing this regulated approach to all 50 states."
Both Kampia and Smith explicitly called on Congress to act to end federal pot prohibition, and Kampia said the poll "bodes well for efforts underway to change state laws around the nation." That may be an understatement. Let's check back in a on that a little bit more than a year from now.