Representative Sherry Appleton Joins With Coalition of Patient Advocates to Defend Washington’s Medical Cannabis Law

Seattle, WA -- Patients, doctors and caregivers have formed a powerful coalition to keep medical cannabis from being eliminated in the face of Initiative 502 implementation -- and to prove they mean business, the group has introduced a bill on the opening day of the 2014 Legislative session.

House Bill 2233 would provide a clear mechanism for licensing and regulation of commercial businesses, while also preserving a patient’s right to grow their own cannabis, both individually and cooperatively. It would also restore vital provisions passed by the Legislature in 2011, but later vetoed by Governor Gregoire.

“Imagine what the medical cannabis program would look like if Senate Bill 5073 had taken full effect in 2011,” says Kari Boiter, who is helping to organized coalition members. “All we’re asking for is the chance to prove that we can live up to the standards the Legislature agreed on once before.”

The “Health Before Happy Hour” campaign is currently backed by more than two dozen organizations and businesses, with a growing list of individual supporters. The grassroots coalition has gained the support of national patient advocacy organization Americans for Safe Access (ASA) as well as several other respected groups.

“We know the Legislature is going to take action on this topic, like it or not,” says Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, one of the founding members of Health Before Happy Hour. “Instead of pushing back against lawmakers, we decided to work with Representative Appleton to provide a fair and equitable path forward.”

John Davis, Executive Director of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, echoes that sentiment, “there are many of us who want to be licensed, we want to be regulated and we are willing to pay for oversight. We are legitimate business owners, doing everything in our power to follow the law and right now, it is vague and open to misinterpretation.”

The broad-based coalition of patients, doctors, caregivers, business owners, farmers, researchers, legal scholars and others have collaboratively written a bill they named the "Ric Smith Memorial Act” in honor of a beloved Seattle advocate who died in December of 2012, after being denied an organ transplant due to his medical cannabis use.

“Ric never passed up the chance to educate lawmakers – or anyone else – about the many uses of cannabis,” recalls Boiter, who met Mr. Smith while she was working as a legislative aide in Olympia. “Ric was actually known to check himself out of the hospital, just so he could attend whatever community event was taking place at the time. Ric was a true testament to the healing power of cannabis and his tenacity continues to be a shining example for those of us left behind.”

Medical cannabis has been authorized under state law since 1998. More than 15 years later, policy remains unclear when it comes to dispensing the medicine. Patients also lack civil and criminal protections due to the 2011 veto by Governor Gregoire. With 502 implementation looming large, the pressure is on to force medical cannabis patients to conform to the commercial system offered under I-502, even though the first recreational business has yet to be licensed and authorities admit that it will be June - at the earliest - before any 502 outlets are up and running.

“Washington voters approved medical cannabis out of compassion, not because they wanted to generate revenue,” says Steph Sherer, Executive Director of ASA, the largest member-based advocacy organization dedicated solely to the therapeutic use of cannabis. “Washington lawmakers have a duty to uphold the will of the voters, not just those who supported I-502, but also those who believe seriously ill patients should have access to medical cannabis if a doctor says it’s helpful.”

The “Health Before Happy Hour” campaign has some powerful testimony to bring to the table in Olympia, including dozens of Washington families with children who benefit from CBD-rich varieties of cannabis like the strain recently featured on CNN’s highly acclaimed documentary “Weed” from Dr. Sanjay Gupta. In the film, Dr. Gupta, a one-time nominee for U.S. Surgeon General, clearlyoutlines why CBD-rich varieties are unlikely to exist in a recreational marketplace, further reinforcing the demand for a separate and distinct medical marijuana program.

“The patients of Washington look forward to working with Senator Kohl-Welles, Senator Rivers, Representative Cody and Representative Appleton to carve out an appropriate space for medical cannabis in the face of I-502,” says Sherer.

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