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Attitudes Shifting About Marijuana as Medical Uses Gain Legitimacy

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Earlier this month, sheriff's deputies were called to a West Longview apartment where people were smoking marijuana. A woman presented a deputy with a medical marijuana card, according to a report, and the deputy left. No citations. No arrests.

The deputy later explained to the person who called in the complaint that "there was nothing to be done."

Marijuana, once reviled as a dangerous narcotic, lumped with heroin and cocaine, has become more widely accepted in recent years than many thought possible.

A clinic opened in Castle Rock this spring to provide medical marijuana certificates and advice about the drug. Castle Rock also is debating whether to allow residents to collectively cultivate their own marijuana gardens for medical use. A marijuana dispensary has opened in Rainier.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen states, including Washington, have passed medical marijuana laws. A bill legalizing and licensing marijuana dispensaries was approved by the Washington Legislature, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed that part of the bill, citing federal laws against marijuana use.

But Melissa Robinson, the owner of Castle Rock's Healing Hand of God marijuana clinic, said it's only a matter of time before marijuana is legal for any adult to grow and consume.

"There's no stopping it," Robinson said. "The force behind it is so grand. If we are not legalized in the next five years I will be blown away."

Marijuana advocates say the public is starting to realize that pot can provide more benefits to patients with fewer side effects than highly addictive and legally available opiate pain killers. The drug has also become destigmatized, they said, because many American voters have smoked pot and suffered few if any ill effects.

"You're starting to see a generation or two of folks who may have at one point in their lives experimented with marijuana and so they have direct experience with it," said 19th District Rep. Brian Blake, D-Raymond, who voted for the Legislature's medical marijuana dispensary bill. "It's almost become mainstream."

Blake said he doesn't believe Washingtonians are quite ready to legalize pot for everyone, but he said, "I think the public is getting there."

What's clear, he said, is that voters "are starting to see that some people actually do get some relief ... from medical marijuana and are sympathetic to that. They've seen folks suffer and are willing to give folks an opportunity to try to relieve that."

States, however, can't act independently of federal law, which prohibits pot possession and cultivation. Gregoire's rejection of this year's marijuana dispensary legislation came after a federal prosecutor in Spokane staged raids on dispensaries in that city.

And the public is far from totally at ease with expanding pot use. A ballot initiative to legalize the drug failed in California last year. In Castle Rock, some residents wore "Not in Our Town" stickers to a recent City Council meeting where they said medical marijuana gardens would make the drug more available to children.

Ed Orcutt, an 18th District State Representative, said pot is slowly becoming accepted by the public because medical marijuana advocates have been successful in easing regulations.

"It's incrementalism, obviously," he said. "You get a little bit here. You get a little bit there. ... Suddenly, you get it accepted by society as a whole."

Orcutt, a Kalama Republican who did not back the dispensary bill, said some people have a "legitimate medical use" for marijuana. "But I think the majority of the people who are pushing for medical marijuana and the dispensaries are pushing for legalization of marijuana in general," he said.

"I'm concerned about what kind of message we send to kids about marijuana when people can go get a prescription and walk in and buy it somewhere," Orcutt said.

Asked if he believed pot should be legalized for everyone, 19th District Legislative Rep. Dean Takko, D-Longview, paused for a long beat, then said, "That's a toughy. I think we'll get there, probably someday. It's stigmatized as being a lot worse than it probably is."

Takko said it's taking longer than he expected for medical marijuana to gain legitimacy. "A lot of us, 30 or 40 years ago, probably figured by the time we got into the places we are in in leadership that there would be a more enlightened view of marijuana's use as medicine. And yet it hasn't happened," he said.

State Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican who is running for governor next year, declined to comment for this story.

Meanwhile, law enforcement agencies and courts are showing signs of relaxing their approach to marijuana. The city of Seattle directed its police officers nearly a decade ago to focus on what it considered more serious crime. In Cowlitz County, during a sentencing hearing last year for a man who was caught growing a large amount of pot despite letting his medical certificate lapse, a Superior Court judge downplayed the offense, comparing it to letting a driver's license expire.

Kelso Police Chief Andy Hamilton said medical marijuana laws have created a gray area for the public and law enforcement, leaving some citizens free to use the drug as they wish and others facing prosecution.

"It used to be black and white: Pot's illegal. Period," Hamilton said. Now, he said, it's "maybe" OK to grow and smoke pot.

Hamilton said his officers are sometimes tipped off about marijuana grows that turn out to be legal because the owner has a medical marijuana card.

"It does make it confusing for both the public and law enforcement officials," he said.

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: tdn.com
Author: Tony Lystra
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Copyright: The Daily News Online
Website: Attitudes shifting about marijuana as medical uses gain legitimacy
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