Medical Marijuana Law Ripe for Action by the Legislature

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Yesterday, the Tacoma City Council agreed to delay taking action on cease-and-desist letters sent to eight medical marijuana dispensaries until after the upcoming 2011 state legislative session. The incident is only the latest in a string of recent stories from across the state highlighting the need for the legislature to tackle the question of how Washington patients with terminal and debilitating conditions, whose doctors have authorized the medical use of cannabis, are supposed to get it.

Currently, the law says a patient or her designated provider may possess a 60-day supply of cannabis for the patient's medical use, but it's silent on the question of where to acquire that supply.  It defines "medical use of marijuana" to include "production" - i.e., growing - but where does the patient or provider obtain seeds, starts, or cuttings?

The Washington state legislature will tackle these questions in 2011.

In 2007, the legislature passed SB 6032, which, among other things, required the state Department of Health (DOH) to "gather information from medical and scientific literature, consulting with experts and the public, and reviewing the best practices of other states regarding access to an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source, including alternative distribution systems, of medical marijuana for qualifying patients."  DOH issued its 114-page report in July 2008, documenting both the barriers Washington patients currently face in accessing an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source of medical-grade cannabis, as well as various options for providing access, including dispensaries.

The ACLU of Washington has been working with Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, the bill's prime sponsor, on a comprehensive bill to address patient access as well as a number of other issues, such as providing patients with protection from arrest and prosecution.  Currently, Washington's law provides only an "affirmative defense" to patients - a chance to prove to a jury that you were in compliance with the law.  Patients still can be arrested, prosecuted, and dragged through the criminal justice system before finally being exonerated at trial.

Sen. Kohl-Welles's bill is still in the drafting phase and has been made available for review online.  She is welcoming input from all.  By the time it is introduced, the bill will be a well-vetted proposal that will provide legislators an excellent vehicle for protecting Washington patients and providing them access to cannabis within a well-regulated system of licensed dispensaries.