When Cindy Roemer started using marijuana five years ago to treat her chronic arthritis pain, she was plagued with guilt. "I felt like I was breaking the law," she said. The former school-bus driver from Longview still worries about the stigma medical marijuana carries, even though it's been legal in Washington to use the drug with a doctor's approval since voters passed a 1998 initiative.

Roemer, who uses a wheelchair and a cane because of the pain in one leg, was among more than 100 people who marched from Capitol Hill to Westlake Park in downtown Seattle on Saturday in support of liberalizing marijuana laws. She thinks it should be legal for anyone to use.

In Washington, doctors can authorize patients with certain conditions to have a 60-day supply of marijuana for medicinal purposes. After much confusion over just how much marijuana constitutes a 60-day supply, the state Legislature passed a bill last year directing the state Department of Health to set the amount. That determination is expected this summer.

Marijuana use is still illegal under federal law.

Saturday's event coincides with similar Marijuana Liberation Day events in as many as 200 other cities nationwide, according to organizers. After the march, the group rallied at Westlake Park in front of a banner that read, "Munchies saves lives." Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata was among the speakers.

Seattle's march was organized largely by people who use medical marijuana, and it comes just two days after the death of musician Timothy Garon, 56, who said he had been denied a liver transplant because he used marijuana to ease the nausea and abdominal pain of hepatitis C.

Organizer Vivian McPeak said the goal of the march was to "end the prohibition" on medical marijuana, eliminate jail sentences for nonviolent marijuana-possession charges and legalize the production of industrial hemp. Marijuana activism is associated with hippies and the 1960s counterculture, McPeak said, but "the reality is, people from all walks of life support this law; people from all walks of life know people who need medicinal marijuana; people from all walks of life know someone who has been needlessly incarcerated" for marijuana use.

At Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill, an eclectic mix gathered — middle-aged people with long hair and tie-dyed shirts, families with children, groups of young people drinking Red Bull and smoking. The smell of marijuana smoke wafted from a stand of trees.

On the outskirts of the rally, Margaret Denny, 57, rode in a wheelchair that her son had decorated with jail bars. She is fighting a drug-possession charge after an arrest at her Maple Valley home last October. She said the police found more pot in her possession than she's allowed with her medical authorization. They took her to jail in an ambulance. She said a 1979 car accident left her suffering from various, painful problems with her hip and foot. "I just think, what a sad waste of the taxpayers' money, putting the sick and the dying in jail or trying to arrest them," she said.

Source: The Seattle Times
Copyright: 2008, The Seattle Times
Contact: Emily Heffter, eheffter@seattletimes.com
Website: Local News | Rally calls for end to pot "prohibition" | Seattle Times Newspaper