Bill would bring more clarity to medical marijuana measure

January 31, 2011 

In 1998, voters in this state approved Initiative 692, which permits the use of medical marijuana by patients with terminal or debilitating conditions diagnosed by a health care professional.

Amended in 2007 and again in 2010, the medical marijuana law is still riddled with ambiguities and contradictions that are a legal nightmare for medical marijuana patients and law enforcement alike.

A bill introduced this legislative session by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, addresses some of the legal gray areas in this state’s medical marijuana law, bringing more clarity to this highly controversial measure.

It’s a comprehensive bill, which tries to make the state’s medical marijuana system fair and just without taking a position on whether marijuana use should be legalized further.

The bill tackles some key problem areas with the status quo.

For instance, qualified patients under the current law are not immune from arrest for possession of marijuana. In essence, they have to prove their innocence in court.

The bill would protect qualified patients and their designated providers from arrest, provided they possess no more marijuana than is allowed under the law, can document their health care authorization or provide proof of registration with the state Department of Health and, in the case of providers, haven’t converted cannabis for personal use.

The current law doesn’t allow for marijuana sales. Instead, patients must grow the marijuana themselves or designate a caregiver to grow it for them. This has proven expensive and difficult at best, particularly for patients who are gravely ill.

The bill would increase patient options, allowing them to participate in a collective garden with other patients or purchase from nonprofit dispensaries licensed and regulated by the state. Collective gardens would be limited to no more than 25 patients and no more than 99 plants total.

This proposed overhaul of the medical marijuana system is not perfect and adds new layers of licensing and regulation to producers, processors and sellers of medical marijuana.

But it addresses the Catch-22 situation that permits patients to use marijuana without a realistic and legal way to buy seeds or plants.

It’s time to acknowledge that the legal shortcomings inherent in I-692 must be remedied for the limited number of patients who have a legal right to use marijuana.

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