Medical pot bills generating rifts among patient groups

Staff writerJanuary 22, 2014 

Cannabis plants are kept in several storage areas at The Healing Center, a medicinal marijuana dispensary in downtown Olympia.

STEVE BLOOM — The Olympian Buy Photo

An effort to bring the state’s two laws on marijuana together is generating several proposals in the Legislature and rifts among the medical marijuana community.

Some patients on Tuesday described a pair of bills on medical marijuana as unconstitutional intrusions, others said they were needed to provide at least some supply of the plant that’s legal under state law but illegal under federal law.

Both proposals before the Senate Health Care Committee would give the state Liquor Control Board, which currently oversees the new recreational marijuana law, some control over medical marijuana.

Both would reduce the current amount of marijuana a patient could have, and the number of plants he or she could grow for personal use. Both would set up a registry for patients that would offer some protections from arrest.

Both would eliminate medical marijuana dispensaries, requiring patients who don’t grow their own or form a small collective garden to buy from recreational marijuana stores.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, author of one bill, said the state’s marijuana laws are evolving. “We do need to preserve access for legitimate patients … while also protecting public safety.”

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-Vancouver, author of the other, said the proposals to join two laws are very complex. “What this bill is not, for the record, is an attack on medical marijuana.”

Arthur West, a medical marijuana patient from Olympia opposed to both, said they were worse: a “coup” on medical marijuana that will cost jobs and close dispensaries around the state. “There are more medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle than there are Starbucks,” he contended.

Ryan Day, who told the committee he moved to Washington to be able to grow marijuana that would treat his son who has a severe form of epilepsy marked by multiple seizures, supports both. “Either one will allow me to grow enough to treat my son,” he said, but not every family in his position can grow and process enough to meet their needs.

Nightmare Alabama, a patient from San Juan County, said the state should not set a limit on home much a patient should have, but leave that to the doctor recommending the treatment, just like it does for prescription drugs. Besides, she added, growing marijuana adds to the therapeutic effects of consuming it.

Muraco Kyasha-tocha, of the Green Buddha Patient Co-op in Seattle, said dispensaries are currently unregulated, and the state needs to focus on patients. “Patients need protecting, not dispensaries,” she said.

Kari Boiter, of Health Before Happy Hour, a medical marijuana support group, said a deregulated system won’t be able to continue. But other patients doubted the recreational stores getting licenses from the Liquor Board to serve customers who want to get high will stock the marijuana products they need that do other things.

Jerry Dirker of Olympia said requiring patients to register violates both their Constitutional right against self-incrimination and federal privacy laws for medical patients.

Committee Chairwoman Randi Becker, R-Eatonville, said she hoped to have the panel vote as soon as possible, but whether it will be on one bill or both or a combination of the two isn’t clear yet. Staff are also researching whether any bill that changes the recreational marijuana statutes needs a super-majority because Initiative 502 is less than two years old.

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