Strengthen medical marijuana law
August 15, 2005
State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, OPED, Seattle Press Intelligencer
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government may prosecute sick people who use doctor-approved marijuana to treat their pain, even in states that have their own medical marijuana laws.
Washington has been one of these states since 1998, when 60 percent of voters approved Initiative 692, which allows patients to treat certain debilitating health conditions with medical marijuana, provided they first receive authorization from a doctor.
Does the recent ruling imperil Washington's medical marijuana law? No.
The court's decision does grant the federal government the power to arrest seriously ill people who use marijuana to alleviate their pain and suffering. But it does not prevent states from allowing the use of marijuana as medicine. And this is important when, according to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, 99 out of 100 marijuana arrests are made under state, not federal, law.
Barring a radical change in federal drug enforcement policy, the court's decision is of greater interest to law professors than to Washington's medical marijuana patients. But it does highlight the vital need to strengthen Washington's medical marijuana law, which was already weakened by past court decisions in this state.
Other than limiting it to a 60-day supply, I-692 did not specify the amount of medical marijuana a patient's physician should recommend. After all, there is currently no professionally standardized dosage for medical marijuana. Just as with any kind of prescription, dosage should depend upon the age, weight, and condition of the patient. But in 2002, a state appeals court decision created confusion among patients, physicians and law enforcement agencies alike by requiring any physicians recommending medical marijuana to specify the amount that a patient may possess and use.
In effect, the ruling requires doctors authorizing medical marijuana for their patients to write a prescription for a federally banned drug. Thus, it has chilled the willingness of doctors to recommend medical marijuana at all. Because it also creates a gray area for what is considered an acceptable amount of medical marijuana to possess, the ruling has placed medical marijuana patients and their caregivers in legal jeopardy.
This is why, since 2003, the state Department of Health, Washington Council of Police and Sheriffs, the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the Drug Policy Reform Project of the ACLU, patient advocacy groups such as Green Cross, and physicians have all collaborated on legislation to conduct a review of Washington's medical marijuana law.
While the Legislature has yet to approve the steps contained in this legislation, the bill will be back in the upcoming legislative session.
Our state and federal statutes regarding medical marijuana speak volumes about who we are as a people. We routinely denounce governments that deliberately inflict pain on their people. We should be just as sensitive to government policies that prevent people in pain from finding some much-needed relief.