Medical Marijuana Advocates Urge Washington Legislature to Strengthen, Preserve Patients Rights Recommendations are part of statewide public comment period, culminating with Nov. 13th public hearing

November 08, 2013 | Kris Hermes

Seattle, WA -- Medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) filed recommendations yesterday for the Washington State legislature, based on a series of patient and provider stakeholder meetings held last week in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane, and Yakima. The stakeholder input, which strongly urges the legislature to strengthen and preserve the rights of medical marijuana patients in Washington, is a response to last month's recommendations from the Liquor Control Board (LCB) and the Departments of Revenue and Health, as part of a statewide public comment period culminating with a public hearing on November 13th in Lacey, Washington.

As the legislature assesses Washington's medical marijuana program in light of the marijuana legalization initiative I-502 passed last November, the LCB and the State Departments of Revenue and Health were tasked with developing recommended changes to the medical-use program. However, patient advocates have become increasingly concerned by comments from state officials and last month's recommendations, which indicate an unwillingness to accommodate two parallel markets and a desire to roll the state's 15-year old medical marijuana program into the emerging recreational marijuana program by making the medical-use law much more restrictive, the requirements unnecessarily onerous, and the costs far too prohibitive for patients.

Last week, ASA organized meetings in five cities across Washington which were attended by scores of patients, caregivers, collective cultivators, dispensary operators, and medical professionals who were united in their opposition to being assimilated into the recreational marijuana program. Among their concerns were state recommendations for abolishing patient cultivation, outlawing medical marijuana-specific distribution, imposing new taxes on patients' medicine, reducing personal use amounts from a 60-day supply to a one-week supply, increasing restrictions on medical professionals, and requiring the mandatory registration of all qualified patients.

"Patients in Washington will not sit idly by to see the state dismantle its 15-year old medical marijuana program and attempt to roll them into a nascent recreational market," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "The very real needs of medical marijuana patients cannot be adequately met by the recreational marijuana program and must be addressed by preserving and strengthening the law that currently exists," continued Sherer. "We're urging Governor Inslee and the state legislature not to abandon the tens of thousands of patients in Washington and continue to treat medical marijuana as a public health issue."

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 and protections for patients from arrest and prosecution, something even recreational users are now entitled to. Earlier this year, patient advocates launched the "Health Before Happy Hour" campaign to urge 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. ASA's own legislative recommendations are included in the comments filed yesterday.

"We are living with HIV/AIDS, end-stage cancers, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and other serious, often painful and debilitating diseases," says Paul Feldman, a Washington-based patient 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."

Further information:
ASA recommendations: http://www.safeaccessnow.org/wa_502_comments
Washington State Working Group recommendations: http://lcb.wa.gov/marijuana/mmj_draft_recommendations
"Health Before Happy Hour" campaign website: http://HealthBeforeHappyHour.org

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