Medical Marijuana Laws Under Scrutiny
September 04, 2007
Evan McLean, Sequim Gazette (WA)Marijuana growers and law enforcement in Clallam County are watching the state cultivate rules to better define the legal medical use of the drug.
In 1998 Washington voters passed an initiative allowing the use of medical marijuana with a doctor’s note. Washington State Department of Health is creating a report for the Legislature that will identify exactly what constitutes the allowed 60-day supply.
“I think these rules will benefit everyone, from my level as a prosecuting attorney to the law enforcement realm and even down to the growers themselves,” Clallam County Prosecuting Attorney Deb Kelly said.
Blake Maresh, Department of Health Medical Commission executive director, said the report will be based on expert testimony, public input and the best practices of other states.
“Whether the rule will cover growing plants and what you can have on person will come from the Legislature,” Maresh said. “But as a local example, Oregon established rules allowing 24 ounces of processed medical marijuana as well as six mature plants and 18 seedlings.”
“It’s been our rule that five plants is the maximum in a grow,” Kelly said.
Olympic Peninsula Narcotics Enforcement Team Commander Ron Cameron said Clallam’s five-plant rule has provided solid ground for law enforcement to stand on. However, enforcement can vary.
“Civil forfeiture law allows us to take any plants and equipment for grows over five plants,” Cameron said. “But this is very discretionary.”
Cameron gave two examples. In one, officers may walk into a grow operation with extravagant systems where each plant may produce ounces of the drug.
“Then there’s the situation where our medics respond to a Lifeline alert and find themselves in a sick elderly woman’s home where she has 23 plants that all together may not be able to produce a single ounce,” Cameron said.
The Lifeline alert was a true story. Cameron did not authorize the plants to be taken.
“Some people do an incredible amount of research and really abuse this medical marijuana law,” Cameron said. “We can usually identify if a grow is personal or for distribution and we try to respect those people taking advantage of the law for the right reasons.”
Maresh said there would be unavoidable challenges between state and federal enforcement of medical marijuana use.
“Even though the law does provide for local and state protection if you are approved by a doctor, there is still an underlying federal regulation that prohibits anyone from using marijuana,” Maresh said. “But other states have created rules like what we are trying to create, so we have a platform to make our policy as sound and clear as possible.”
Maresh said his department’s job is to gather information, not make recommendations. Cameron said his department is creating a recommendation to be included in that process.
Kelly commented on two criminal cases of local growers with doctor’s notes. One sent Brian Rickard, who was featured making marijuana- laced food in a 2005 Gazette article, to jail for a month earlier this year with fines in excess of $1,300. He’d been growing approximately 60 plants in his Sequim home with a doctor’s note.
The Clallam County Sheriff’s Office left him with five plants, took his growing equipment and forwarded charges to the court system.
“I’m not a manufacturer, I’m a farmer,” said Rickard in the 2002 story. His initially prescribed treatment regime included a variety of pharmaceuticals from Veterans Affairs, which he said were making him die faster. He said his quality of life improved using marijuana versus being drugged up all of the time.
However, his grow wasn’t reportedly just for him. The warrant to search his home resulted from deputies finding marijuana in the car of a friend of Rickard’s who had been pulled over for a traffic stop.
“Rickard had more plants than what constitutes a 60-day supply, that much was clear,” Kelly said. “He is on one end of the spectrum.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, James Dropp had his case dismissed in Superior Court in early August. He had a smaller operation, with 12 plants in various stages.
“Law enforcement took seven and left him with five,” Kelly said. “He had the correct documentation and was brought down to our county’s definition of what’s legal.”
Maresh said the health department is required to look at safe and effective means for distributing medical marijuana, as many who are sick are unable to grow for themselves.
Maresh said the meetings would gather information on different means of distribution, be that through a dispensary, government regulated growers or other ideas used in other states.
Department of Health reports are due back to the Legislature by July 1, 2008. The department’s progress will be updated at www.doh.wa.gov/hsqa/medical-marijuana/ throughout the entire process.
Washington medical marijuana Internet links of interest:
• The state of medical marijuana in Washington site includes links to court cases, scientific reports and testimonials at www.cannabismd.org.
• The Green Cross site contains recent news, I-692 tutorials, authorization form examples and a patient-physician guide at hemp.net/greencross.
• hemp.net is a medical marijuana advocacy site
• The Drug Enforcement Agency has a site dedicated to exposing myths of medical marijuana at www.usdoj.gov/dea/ongoing/marijuana.html, supporting federal laws that prohibit any marijuana use.
To submit comments toward the state’s plan to create rules defining what a prescribed medical marijuana user can have on their person or growing in their homes, e-mail MedicalMarijuana@doh.wa.gov or fax at 360-236-4768 or mail to Department of Health, PO Box 47866, Olympia, Wash. 98504.
From the Washington State Medical Association:
According to the Washington state law the benefits of medical marijuana may include treating nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, AIDS wasting syndrome, severe muscle spasms from multiple sclerosis or other spasticity disorders, glaucoma and some types of intractable pain. Some of the risks of medical marijuana may include possible long-term effects of the brain in the areas of memory, coordination and cognition, impairment of the ability to drive or operate heavy machinery, respiratory damage, possible lung cancer and physical or psychological dependence.