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Seattle, WA -- Medical marijuana patients across Washington have begun a campaign called "Health Before Happy Hour" to educate the Washington State Legislature and Governor Jay Inslee that the needs of patients are much different from those of recreational marijuana users, and they will not be easily brushed aside. With the help of national patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the medical marijuana community in Washington will be taking their issues to lawmakers over the coming weeks.
The grassroots campaign is being launched in the face of growing concerns about the potential dismantling of Washington's original Medical Use of Cannabis Act to ease implementation of Initiative 502, passed last November. "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 cannabis," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "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."
As Washington's Liquor Control Board moves forward with plans to fully implement I-502 and open retail stores across the state, some officials have suggested that medical marijuana should be folded into the recreational system. In recent news coverage, Mitch Barker of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs stated that, "the two (laws) are not going to be able to exist side by side for very long." That sentiment was echoed by State Senator Ann Rivers (R-La Center) who implied that, "medical marijuana is an avenue to sidestep the laws and regulations and the revenue." However, Washington patients overwhelmingly reject this notion.
"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."
Mark Kleiman, the newly hired consultant tasked with implementing I-502, argues that competition from medical marijuana could cut expected revenues in half. Kleiman was recently quoted saying that, "It is entirely possible that by the time we finish regulating and taxing this product, it’s going to be uncompetitive with (the medical marijuana market)."
However, the medical marijuana community refuses to be categorized as merely a competitive market. "Washington voted for medical cannabis to show compassion, not generate revenue," said Kari Boiter, ASA's 2012 Medical Cannabis Advocate of the Year. "Our state is essentially prioritizing liquor stores over pharmacies," continued Boiter. "It seems inconceivable for lawmakers to ignore the cries of seriously ill constituents, just so Washington can reap a bigger profit."
Medical marijuana has been authorized under state law since 1998. Almost 15 years later, the state's policy remains unclear when it comes to dispensing medicine. Patients also lack the basic legal protections from arrest and prosecution, something even recreational users are now entitled to.
In the highly acclaimed documentary "Weed," which premiered on CNN over the weekend, former U.S. Surgeon General nominee Dr. Sanjay Gupta outlined the need to cultivate CBD-rich strains and described why such varieties are unlikely to exist in a recreational marketplace, reinforcing the demand for separate and distinct medical marijuana programs.
On the heels of Dr. Gupta's groundbreaking investigative reporting, the "Health Before Happy Hour" campaign is urging patient advocates to ask Governor Inslee to support legislation based on Senate Bill 5073, a proposal sponsored by Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles in 2011 which was partially vetoed by then-Governor Christine Gregoire, leaving the state's medical marijuana law littered with a litany of legal discrepancies. "The patients of Washington look forward to working with Senator Kohl-Welles and other respected lawmakers to carve out an appropriate space for medical cannabis that is independent of I-502," said Sherer.
"Health Before Happy Hour" campaign website: http://HealthBeforeHappyHour.org