Medical Marijuana Advocates Mobilize Stakeholders Across Washington State for Input on I-502 Regulations "Health Before Happy Hour" campaign seeks state legislation to protect patient rights, preserve and license dispensaries

October 21, 2013 | Kris Hermes

Seattle, WA -- Medical marijuana advocates will hold stakeholder meetings across Washington State next week in advance of submitting written public comments on regulations being developed for I-502, the state's recreational marijuana initiative passed last November. Meetings hosted by the Washington chapter of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will be held from October 27th-30th in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima.

Beginning today, a working group established by I-502, which includes the Liquor Control Board, the Department of Health, and the Department of Revenue, will be accepting public input on draft regulations between October 21st-November 8th. The working group's deadline for sending final regulatory recommendations to the state legislature is January 1, 2014.

Medical marijuana stakeholder meeting locations, dates, and times:
Olympia, Sunday Oct 27th, 3-5pm
Seattle, Sunday Oct 27th, 7-9pm
Bellingham, Monday Oct 28th, 6-8pm
Yakima, Tuesday Oct 29th, 6-8pm
Spokane, Wednesday Oct 30th, 6-8 pm

"Washington was one of the first states in the nation to recognize that patients under a physician's care have the right to use medical marijuana," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer, who will be facilitating next week's stakeholder meetings. "The needs of this vulnerable population are distinctly different from the wants of recreational users and it's vital that elected officials understand the difference."

Since the passage of I-502 last November, state officials have expressed contempt for Washington's 15-year-old medical marijuana initiative and a desire to dismantle the law. Brian E. Smith, spokesman for the Liquor Control Board, the agency tasked with overseeing the recreational marijuana industry, said in May that competition from the medical marijuana market will pose "a challenge" to the viability of the state's new recreational program.

State Rep. Chris Hurst (D-Enumclaw), chairman of the House Government Oversight and Accountability Committee, recently called the medical marijuana industry "a sham," and urged the task force to recommend that all of the state's dispensaries be shut down. This sentiment was followed up by Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs who stated that, "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long."

In addition to hostility from state officials, the federal Department of Justice (DOJ) appears unwilling to ease up on its enforcement practices. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) continuing to raid dispensaries, with U.S. Attorneys continuing to threaten and prosecute medical marijuana patients and providers. Earlier this year, U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan called Washington's medical marijuana system "untenable," and vowed to shut down the state's dispensaries. Because of these subversive efforts, patients launched the "Health Before Happy Hour" campaign in August to help preserve Washington State's medical marijuana law and to underscore the distinct needs of patients.

"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," says Paul Feldman, who experiences relief with the help of medical cannabis. "It is wholly inappropriate to force us to get our medicine from anything resembling a liquor store and equally unacceptable to make patients pay an excise tax," continued Feldman. "No other medication is taxed this way and cannabis shouldn't be either."

Medical marijuana has been authorized under Washington State law since 1998, however attempts were thwarted by the DOJ in 2011 to establish a licensing system for dispensaries. Because of changes in the law, patients also lack the basic legal protections from arrest and prosecution, something even recreational users are now entitled to. The "Health Before Happy Hour" campaign is urging passage of legislation based on Senate Bill 5073, the proposal previously sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles which was partially vetoed in 2011 by then-Governor Christine Gregoire.

Further information:
"Health Before Happy Hour" campaign website: http://HealthBeforeHappyHour.org
2011 letter from both U.S. Attorneys in Washington, derailing efforts to license medical marijuana dispensaries:
http://american-safe-access.s3.amazonaws.com/documents/DOJ_Threat_Letter_WA.pdf

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