Safe Access to Medical Marijuana: Federal Raids and a Governor's Veto Won't Solve the Problem

Friday, April 29, 2011

Today, two troubling news stories on medical marijuana are in the headlines in Washington. The first is the federal government's raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane. The second is Governor Gregoire's expected veto of SB 5073, the thoughtful and comprehensive medical marijuana bill passed by the state legislature with leadership from Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles and Rep. Eileen Cody.

That bill would have licensed the production and sale of medical marijuana through regulated dispensaries so that sick and dying patients could obtain quality-controlled medicine safely, rather than through the black market. It would also have improved safety for communities that now suffer through unregulated "grow operations" in their neighborhoods. Unfortunately, the Governor plans to veto these key provisions based on the weak argument that state workers who regulate the dispensaries would be at risk of arrest by the feds.

The timing of these two stories may be far from coincidence. Were the feds spurred to act by a concern that a thoughtful, well-regulated system for producing and dispensing medical marijuana would "normalize" marijuana in the eyes of the public? That battle is already over. An overwhelming majority of Washingtonians (over 80%) already support medical marijuana and reject federal bullying on the issue.

A more important question that our Governor and the federal government need to answer is -are federal raids without state regulations really a sustainable solution? The feds can't possibly go after every dispensary in the state, much less the country. The feds will likely be gone after their brief show of shock and awe. And without an above-board state regulatory system, federal raids will shut down both sham dispensaries and those that genuinely cater to authorized patients. Once again, this leaves sick and hurting people - our friends and neighbors with debilitating or terminal illnesses - with nowhere to turn but the black market for the medicine that eases their pain. All this to avoid an empty threat of federal action against state employees.

Washington's bill would have been the country's most carefully drawn and comprehensive approach. Kudos to the legislature for stepping up to pass it now. Washington's citizens should demand that our state and federal leaders offer better solutions if they reject those hammered out conscientiously by the legislature. Our patients and communities deserve no less.