Medical Marijuana Users Need Protection
February 01, 2007
Damon Agnos, OpEd, The Spokesman-Review
Sharon Tracy "may have been exactly the kind of patient the voters of this state had in mind when they enacted the medical marijuana initiative, I-692."
So said the Washington State Supreme Court in a Nov. 22 ruling about a woman who suffers from, among other things, diabetes, heart disease, degenerating discs in her back, a hip deformity, and who has had a series of eight corrective surgeries for a ruptured colon and bowel conditions. On her doctor's recommendation, Sharon Tracy was using marijuana to treat her pain.
Nevertheless, Skamania County saw fit to arrest and prosecute her, and the Supreme Court saw fit to uphold her conviction, all because her doctor got his license in California instead of Washington. Now she is serving home detention in Stevenson, more than 25 miles from the nearest hospital, and her felony conviction means that she'll no longer be able to help out at the day care at her church.
Prosecuting Sharon Tracy and monitoring her through the department of corrections is probably not the way most taxpayers want their money spent. And, as the court pointed out, it is clearly not what Washington voters had in mind when they voted for Washington's medical marijuana initiative. Those voters recognized that protecting people like Sharon Tracy from prosecution and jail time is a matter of compassion, common sense and fiscal responsibility.
However, law enforcement and the courts have had difficulty honoring the voters' will. Time and again, the people whom the law was meant to protect find themselves in handcuffs or worse. A Centralia man, the caretaker for a muscular dystrophy patient, was arrested and prosecuted for possessing that patient's medical marijuana (which was then confiscated) - even though the law explicitly allows him to do so. A Bremerton woman who has lupus and a doctor's recommendation for medical marijuana was arrested and prosecuted for possessing a pipe with nothing but marijuana residue in it. There are stories like these all across Washington.
If we want to make sure that the law does what it was intended to do - that is, to protect patients and caregivers from unnecessary and cruel prosecution - we need to make some changes.
The law needs to be clarified so that those who follow the rules can avoid arrest, not just conviction. As it stands, the law provides only a defense at trial.
The law needs to be clarified so that qualifying patients and caregivers can create community medical gardens, providing the intangible benefits of community support and ensuring that all patients who need medical marijuana have access to it. Growing marijuana is an expensive, time-consuming endeavor - frequently too much for a sick patient too handle alone. If one of your elderly relatives learned she needed chemotherapy in a week, and her doctor recommended marijuana for the nausea, do you think she'd be able to grow what she needs in seven days? If she could join a community garden, she'd be sure to have her medicine when the treatments began.
The law needs to be clarified to protect employees who use medical marijuana. Employees who treat their pain with cannabis on a doctor's recommendation should not be treated any differently from employees who treat their pain with opiate-based drugs like codeine on their doctor's recommendation. Testing positive for following your doctor's advice shouldn't mean losing your job.
The law should be clarified so that doctors' expert opinions are given their due. Washington respects a California doctor's opinion that a patient will benefit from conventional painkillers; it should also respect that same doctor's opinion that another patient would benefit instead from medical marijuana.
It's too late for our medical marijuana law to protect Sharon Tracy, but Gov. Gregoire should issue a commutation so she can return to California to care for her very ill mother, and a pardon to rid her of the felony conviction that prevents her from working with children. Just as importantly our Legislature needs to make sure that future patients don't have to undergo her ordeal. It's a simple decision - compassion, common sense and fiscal responsibility tell us that it makes no sense to prosecute and jail sick people for pursuing doctor-recommended medication. Let's do the right thing and protect Washington's medical marijuana patients.
Damon Agnos is campaign coordinator of the Washington Campaign for Safe Access.