In November 2009, Lacey voters chose the first known medical marijuana patient to win public office in our community — council member Ron Lawson — over the then-sitting mayor of Lacey, Graeme Sackrison.
This year in the Legislature, efforts in the House to put marijuana in liquor stores were thwarted in committee. Medical marijuana activists were critical of the bill, House Bill 2401, because of language that would cause medical marijuana patients to lose their rights to produce their own medicine, thus raising their health care costs.
The marijuana decriminalization bill, House Bill 1177, also was killed in committee. A group from Seattle called Sensible Washington, frustrated at watching legislators pay lip service to this issue and then drag their feet, filed Initiative 1068, a proposal which would remove all state-level criminal penalties for adult marijuana use or production. I understand and share their frustration.
The state of the medical marijuana law in Washington state is a mess because lawmakers have mostly been afraid to take a stand and agree with doctors. I know because I deal with the medical marijuana law every day at the resource center.
Washington’s medical marijuana law, RCW 69.51A, does not make anything legal. It says that having a doctor’s permission to use marijuana as medicine is an “affirmative defense.” If the police detect marijuana, they have probable cause to search you even if you have your doctor’s authorization on your person. Imagine if a policeman found a prescription bottle for painkillers with your name on it and decided to act summarily as though your prescription were a forgery. This is the state of the medical marijuana law in Washington. The intent of the law is that the opinions of doctors be respected.
When one compares RCW 69.51A to the legal treatment of the possession of Oxycontin and other opiates that are tearing apart our communities as surely as methamphetamine, it is clear that the status quo is a manifest unfairness.
It is unfair to the medical marijuana patients who must choose between the risk of arrest and poisoning themselves with opiates and other drugs.
It is unfair to the doctors who must engage legal protection in order to uphold their Hippocratic oaths.
It is unfair to the police who miss out on opportunities to detect crime because the law is unclear and they don’t want to make a mistake.
This unfair status quo was just perpetuated by the state Supreme Court in the case of Washington vs. Fry, in which the court decided that it’s OK to search a medical marijuana patient’s home if police get a whiff of marijuana. This decision was out of step with the efforts of citizens and lawmakers, and added to the confusion surrounding legal marijuana possession.
Initiative 1068 provides a clearer standard of what voters in Washington want regarding marijuana legislation than the Legislature has ever given us. Rather than vague language that causes people to fight for their rights in court, Initiative 1068 ends marijuana prohibition while maintaining current safeguards against juvenile possession and DUI.
Whether you support medical marijuana, full legalization or oppose the use of marijuana, it is time to show the Legislature the people want this issue settled. Sign the petition to bring Initiative 1068 to the ballot this November.
Justin Kover is a legislative representative for the Olympia Patient Resource Center. A member of The Olympian’s Board of Contributors, he also volunteers as the new Southwest Washington coordinator for Sensible Washington, sponsors of Initiative 1068. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.