Your voice is needed in Washington State!

October 21, 2013 | William Dolphin

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Washington State officials need to hear from patients and advocates on how to best integrate its medical cannabis program with the new adult-use initiative approved by voters last November.

As some state officials urge the dismantling of Washington’s medical cannabis program, ASA is mobilizing stakeholders across the state to stand up for patient rights as part of the "Health before Happy Hour" campaign, with meetings to be hosted by the Washington chapter of ASA from October 27-30 in Bellingham, Olympia, Seattle, Spokane and Yakima.

Late today, the state’s work group -- representing the Liquor Control Board, the Department of Health and the Department of Revenue – issued a collection of recommendations that would radically limit the patient access the state’s voters approved 15 years ago. Why is not clear. The work group’s task was to merge a system of access restricted to those who use cannabis therapeutically with one open to anyone 21 or older, yet what they produced is a plan to make it far more difficult to qualify as a patient and grants far fewer rights to those who can. If you’re going to sell cannabis to anyone 21 or over, why make it substantially more difficult for those with maladies to treat their conditions?

"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."

Among the work group’s proposed changes:

  1. Ban all personal cultivation and collective gardens
  2. Lower possession limit from 24 ounces to 3 ounces
  3. Eliminate the affirmative defense for proving medical necessity above possession limits
  4. Void all current doctors’ recommendations and require new evaluations under harder-to-meet definitions of qualifying conditions
  5. Restrict medical professionals to eliminate specialty cannabis practices and make recommendations equivalent to prescribing opiates
  6. Require patients to register with the state and give law enforcement access to registry
  7. Eliminate petitioning to add conditions.

These are all bad ideas that undermine patient well-being, but the worst is the elimination of personal cultivation and collective gardens. Patients would be thrown into a commercial system that prevents patients from preserving plant genetics and has steep excise taxes added at every step. For patients with conditions that only respond to specific strains, preventing them from growing the type of plant that helps them risks losing much of the therapeutic benefit. For low-income patients or those whose treatment requires more medicine, this can mean loss of access because of exorbitant expense, as producers add 25% tax, processors add 25% and retailers add 25% tax on sales. The only concession to cannabis being medicine (which is not taxed) is a proposed exemption for the additional sales and use taxes collected at point of sale.

Lowering the possession limit and eliminating the affirmative defense for patients who can demonstrate their treatment regime requires more than that limit make little sense except in the context of banning cultivation, something that disproportionately affects the indigent and most seriously ill.

Restricting the ability of medical professionals to recommend cannabis as a treatment option because that patient is now going to be entitled to buy cannabis without seeing a doctor is just silly. Since there will be no restriction but age for recreational purchases, why does the state need you to objectively prove you’re experiencing chronic back pain to use it medically? And since that safe herbal remedy for that back pain will be available over the counter to any adult, if you’re a doctor recommending it, why will the state now consider that recommendation equivalent to prescribing the most dangerous opiate painkillers?

The lack of logic in these proposals would be laughable if the health and welfare of suffering citizens were not at stake. But it is, which makes them simply shameful.

Patients and advocates have until Friday, November 8 to submit written comments via email at medicalmarijuana@liq.wa.gov.

Check back here on the ASA website for details on locations for stakeholder meetings.

 

ASA's medical cannabis stakeholder meeting locations, dates, and times:

Sunday, Oct 27
Olympia 3 to 5 pm
The Urban Onion
116 SE Legion Way
Olympia WA 98501
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page

Sunday, Oct 27
Seattle 7 to 9 pm
El Centro De La Raza
2524 16th Avenue S
Seattle, Washington 98144
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page

Monday, Oct 28
Bellingham 6 to 8 pm
Bellingham Public Library Fairhaven Branch
Fireplace Room
1117 12th Street
Bellingham, WA 98225
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page

Tuesday, Oct 29
Yakima 5 to 7 pm
Selah Branch, Yakima Public Library
106 South Second Street
Selah, WA 98942
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page

Wednesday, Oct 30
Spokane 6 to 8 pm
Argonne Library
4322 N Argonne Rd
Spokane, WA 99212
RSVP on the Facebook Event Page

The full text of the state's work group recommendations is at http://www.scribd.com/doc/177925676/MMJ-Draft-Recommendations-10-21-13.



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