Users press panel on medical pot

February 27, 2007

Richard Roesler, Spokesman Review (WA)

OLYMPIA – Everett horticulturalist Steve Sarich surprised a roomful of state lawmakers Tuesday when he showed up with a small cardboard box that read "raspberries."

Raspberries they were not.

"That's six marijuana plants," Sarich said, holding a tray of what looked like healthy tomato seedlings and plopping it on a Senate hearing table.

There was a startled pause.

"OK, Steve," said committee Chairwoman Sen. Karen Keiser. "Thank you for bringing that forward."

At issue was Senate Bill 6032, a bill intended to help shield medical marijuana users and their suppliers from seizure and charges or civil penalties. Dozens of proponents, many visibly ill and frail, showed up to back the bill. Among the co-sponsors: Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley, who lost a wife to cancer.

Sarich's home, where he grows seedlings for medical marijuana users, was raided by regional drug agents last month. They seized more than 1,000 plants. He was not arrested and has publicly vowed to continue growing and providing the plants.

Lawmakers "need to see what it is, the dangerous stuff," Sarich said Tuesday, posing for a photo with his pot seedlings as a group of lobbyists stared.

"Well, you never know what you'll see in the hallways of Olympia," one said.

Nine years ago, Washingtonians approved Initiative 692, decriminalizing marijuana for patients with debilitating or terminal illnesses who get a doctor to sign off on their use of the drug. Federal law does not recognize the initiative or the concept of medical use of pot. Even if SB 6032 passes, growers like Sarich would still face the risk of serious federal penalties.

"We have patients in different jurisdictions across the state not being treated the same," said Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, prime sponsor of the bill. "We should not have patients who qualify under the law being arrested and being prosecuted."

One patient after another told lawmakers Tuesday that marijuana was helping dull pain, increase hunger and ease nausea from chemotherapy.

"Patients have a right to grow their own medicine, but patients have a problem getting the medicine that starts to get them growing," said JoAnna McKee, a co-founder of Green Cross, a Seattle growing cooperative that quickly found itself head to head with drug officials.

Many had stories like Katy Roarke, a grandmother who said she suffers from chronic back problems and pain.

In February 2005, she and other medical marijuana patients were growing the drug at property she owned in Arlington. Drug agents raided the site, and she said the Snohomish County prosecutor is charging her with felony manufacture of a controlled substance. She said police "feel free to ignore" the medical marijuana law.

"If we are allowed to use it, then we must somehow be able to grow it or acquire it," she said. "But the law does not specify how we can do this legally."

Don Pierce, with the state sheriffs' and police chiefs' association, said the group wants to be sure that the law doesn't soften to allow recreational users of the drug to claim to be medical marijuana users.

 



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