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Lawmakers Need to Fix the Medical Marijuana Mess

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This state's medicinal marijuana law is a wreck. Attempts to clarify the voter-approved law during the 2011 legislative session imploded when the governor vetoed large portions of the measure aimed at legalizing cannabis dispensaries.

Between them, lawmakers and Gov. Chris Gregoire have created quite a mess, increased uncertainty and left patients and suppliers totally confused about their legal status. Add in federal raids on marijuana dispensaries in Spokane and the people of this state are left with a jumbled mess that merits legislative action.

Now that lawmakers have completed their work for the year and adopted a balanced 2011-13 state operating budget, it's time for medicinal cannabis supporters like Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, to draw the players together to see where compromises can be found and clarity added to state law. If consensus can be reached, a bill should be ready to run early in the 2012 session. If the issue cannot wait until then and the feds continue their raids, a special one-day legislative session can be held to clarify the law and clean up the mess from the governor's veto.

This is one of those issues where there's no doubt where voters stand. After a feisty campaign in 1998, Washington voters made it clear that they wanted cancer patients to be able to use marijuana to combat nausea caused by chemotherapy. More than 1.1 million Washington voters approved Initiative 692 — 58.97 percent favorable vote — to authorize the use of medicinal marijuana for cancer and other patients.

Ever since, users and growers have been caught in a legal limbo — caught between the voter-approved initiative and federal drug laws that make no exception for the medicinal use of cannabis. This should be a states' rights issue and the feds should bow out. They certainly have a terrible record in combating illegal drug trafficking.

Washington state's original initiative didn't say explicitly that dispensaries are legal or illegal.

The Legislature this year passed Senate Bill 5073 which offered patient protections, authorized collective gardens, and allowed local cities and counties to adopt zoning and health regulations governing the production, processing and distribution of medicinal marijuana.

Definitions in the original law that medical marijuana supporters used to justify dispensaries were removed by legislators who thought they would be replacing them with a blueprint for a state-regulated supply and distribution system.

Old language referring to "designated providers" who provided cannabis to "only one patient at any one time" disappeared, taking one of the dispensaries' main claims for legitimacy with them.

The federal government raised the stakes on the issue, raiding marijuana dispensaries in Spokane the day before the governor was to take up the bill, which passed the House 54-43 and the Senate 27-21.

Gregoire was under intense pressure to both sign and veto the proposed legislation. U.S. attorneys in Western and Eastern Washington, Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, urged a veto saying state regulators would not be immune from prosecution by the federal government. That prompted the state's largest employee union to urge a gubernatorial veto, too.

The governor vetoed large portions of Senate Bill 5073 and as a result the state law is in tatters and confusion abounds.

Nathan Harris, manager of Tacoma's Best Alternative Medicine, a dispensary, says he doesn't know what to expect. "If the law says we have to close, we'll close," he said. "We're not trying to be a vigilante or anything. ...To tell the truth, I'm a little confused about what's going on right now."

He's not alone.

Mac McCloud, 56, of Yelm, a qualified medical marijuana patient, is right when he says, "People are going to smoke, no matter who sells it. If they close these dispensaries, the people that sell illegal drugs are going to be happy about it. The Mexican mafia will just make more money, because that's where most of these drugs are coming from."

Lawmakers have an obligation to clear up this mess. They didn't get a second bill passed in the 30-day special session in May because their full attention was focused on passing a balanced budget. But the interim between annual sessions is a perfect time to draft a proposed solution, hold public hearings, collect ideas and craft a bill that recognizes the will of the voters and does not subject public employees to the possibility of arrest. Surely reasonable minds can come to a reasonable solution to clear up the mess we have today.

News Hawk- Jacob Ebel 420 MAGAZINE
Source: theolympian.com
Author: The Olympian
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Olympian
Website: Lawmakers need to fix the medical marijuana mess
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