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Legalization Is Not To Blame For Washington’s Medical Marijuana Mess

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Washington I 502 marijuana legalizationLately, medical marijuana in Washington State has been under attack from legislators who wish to seriously reduce the limits and availability of medicine for patients.  The roll-out of recreational legalization in the state has subjected patients to much worry; however, I do not accept the pity party going on in Washington State, complaining that legalization has ruined medical marijuana.  No.  Medical marijuana activists in Washington ruined medical marijuana.

See, the leaders in Washington’s marijuana movement were more than happy to endorse and even encourage the “Wild West” atmosphere there.  Beginning with the vague “60 day supply” written in the law, rather than any fixed limits, knowing that in pot-friendly areas “60 day supply” would be a whole lot of marijuana (for patients, of course, nobody would ever over grow and distribute their Washington weed in, say, Chicago, where they can make huge profits.  Why, that would give a black eye to medical marijuana and might convince legislators it is out of control!)

Then as their “dispensaries” began to flourish, did their activists work hard to put a dispensary regulation initiative on the ballot, like we did in Oregon in 2004, and try again (but fail to make the ballot) in 2008, and try again in 2010?  Nope.  They were more than willing to exploit the “We’re not dispensaries; we’re caregivers for one patient at one time as they line up in single file in front of my storefront counter” loophole.  (Yes, there was a lot of winking and nudging at Oregon dispensaries, but we showed that we recognized it and were willing to regulate it.)

Then they were busy convincing people that every single patient in Washington State was so seriously desperately ill the “60 day supply” had to be 35 ounces (my friend Dr. Sunil Aggarwal MD suggested 71 ounces!) eventually settling on 24 ounces.  Yes, SOME patients need that much… but if they’d gone for, say, “six ounces, but a doctor can recommend more if needed”, they would have secured more good will with the public and legislators.  (Yeah, we have 24 ounces, too, but we traded that for affirmative defense on amounts greater – again, building trust with the public and legislators, showing we care about regulation.)

The dispensaries continued to develop, winking and nudging along the way.  More years passed where activists could have worked on a dispensary initiative again, building up good will in the community and appearing as if we care about keeping things regulated and benefiting the state.  Nope.  Instead, they were focused on “Sensible Washington”, the eminently insensible plan to ask voters to completely repeal and invalidate ALL marijuana laws and leave it up to the legislature to regulate marijuana (you know, that same legislature they’re castigating now for destroying medical marijuana.)  It never had a shot at the ballot, never got any serious institutional support, never got half as many signatures as it needed, and never generated any serious funding in 2010.  So they did it again in an off-off-year election in 2011 with the same results.  Once it became clear the locals weren’t operating in political reality, the big national money started looking for other legalization options.

Meanwhile, the legislature finally gets around to writing laws to regulate dispensaries, most of which brought howls from their activist community.  They howled about finally getting protection from arrest (because it would require a *gasp* mandatory registry! like every other medical marijuana state except California, comparing it to a sex offender registry), they howled about the “60 day super allowance gone” in favor of a mere 15 plants (more than any other states’ limit except Oregon and California), they howled that the “one patient at one time” loophole was being closed, they howled about no longer being able to backdate recommendations (a.k.a. “fraud”), and then when the governor reacted to raid threats from US attorneys, she line-item vetoed their dispensary regulations (so… why are they pissed about I-502, when it was Chris Gregoire’s veto that killed regulated dispensaries, which, had they been operating, might have been easily folded into legalization, a la Colorado?)

But the partially-passed SB5073 did contain a new loophole: collective gardens.  Ten patients could collectively garden 45 plants.  So now the “one patient at one time caregiver” dispensaries became “one patient at a time joins my ten-person collective as I kick the tenth person off the list” dispensaries.  Also came the easing of getting recommendations with the addition of naturopaths and DOs, leading to the infamous doc-in-a-tent at Hempfestand a line of twenty-somethings with serious and debilitating illnesses they need 1.5lbs of cannabis for before they joined the mosh pit at Main Stage.

In this vacuum of any serious mature attempts to legalize marijuana or regulate medical marijuana, in steps New Approach Washington with I-502 – a marijuana legalization law written by an alcohol drinker to be regulated by a liquor control board.  I was working for NORML at the time this org was first cranking up for the fight.  We pushed them for no per se DUID, we pushed for allowing home grow, and we pushed for consideration of medical marijuana.  But the wink-nudge distrust of the marijuana movement there made it tough for us to get any political traction.  Major funders and high-profile backers wouldn’t join without the per se DUID.  Home grow was shot down because polling showed it cost points (I believed that was a public reaction to the impression mass medical fields were leading to out of state diversion).  And the activists in Washington insisted quite strongly that any legalization measure didn’t touch medical (which I-502 did not; you can’t find a single line in it that changes – or protects – the medical law.)

So, here they are, watching their medical marijuana program being reduced down to, say, a Hawaii, Maine, or Colorado, wailing about taxes most patients in most states would love to have the opportunity to pay, wailing about a mere six plants and three ounces, and heaping all their opprobrium on legalization of marijuana through I-502.  That’s a whole lot easier than admitting their failure to lead, failure to make reasonable political compromises (really, opposing a registry that would protect patients from arrest?), failure to build working relationships with national-level well-funded marijuana lobbies, and failure to address the obvious glaring subterfuge of the medical marijuana law.

I think it is illustrative to compare Oregon and Washington at this point.  We both have the highest limits in America, we both have wink-and-nudge dispensaries, we both have a conservative Eastern bloc that hates marijuana, we both fought for marijuana legalization.  But our activists fought to reign in dispensaries through three initiatives, made political compromises in Salem, built coalitions with national funders, and with a couple of exceptions didn’t announce to the world how brazenly they were bending and breaking the medical law.  Now we’re looking at 8oz/4pl as the *conservative* measure with a shot at the ballot AND we have well regulated, functional dispensaries AND we’re adding conditions to our OMMA.

I wonder what these I-502 haters thought should happen?  Reject I-502 and the wink-nudge dispensaries would have just hummed along?  I seriously doubt it – with a legalization defeat there would have been more political will to clamp down on pot.  Thousands more recreational users had to get a misdemeanor and a mandatory 24 hour jail stint every year until finally, how many years after the already 14 years medical marijuana had to get its shit together?  How many more unfunded, no-shot-in-hell, pie-in-the-sky signature drives for the initiative that REALLY makes Washington marijuana the Wild West?

Basically, their complaint is that tightly regulated recreational marijuana exposed their unregulated loophole medical marijuana, and we should have kept marijuana criminal so they could keep exploiting loopholes.

Meanwhile, I’m genuinely sad for authentic desperately ill Washingtonians who will suffer more hardship because of the failure of their activist leaders to put patients’ concerns above those of profit-making loophole-abusers and their own ego-fueled beliefs about how to legalize marijuana that ignore simple political realities (write the TV ad that convinces a soccer mom we should just repeal all marijuana laws… I’d love to read that.

Source: National Cannabis Coalitionmake a donation

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About Author

Executive Director: Russ Belville has been active in Oregon marijuana reform since 2005, when he was elected second-in-command of the state affiliate, Oregon NORML. After four years with Oregon NORML, Russ was hired by National NORML in 2009, working as Outreach Coordinator and hosting the NORML Daily Audio Stash podcast until 2012. Since then, Russ launched the 420RADIO marijuana legalization network and is the host of The Russ Belville Show, a live daily marijuana news talk radio program. Russ is also a prolific writer, with over 300 articles posted online and in print in HIGH TIMES, Huffington Post, Alternet, The Weed Blog, Marijuana Politics, and more.

59 Comments

  1. Mary Leochner on

    I moved from CA to Washington a month ago. Had my medical license in CA. Was hoping that legalization would make things a bit easier here. I have had 7 brain surgeries. Epilepsy. Bi-polar is really bad right now because of the topiramate I am taking and it makes me have death thoughts. Not smoking anything, (except cigs – so want to quit just a couple a day). Had to get my insurance changed. Still believe cannabis has helped me stay alive 53 years somehow. Have taken over 30 FDA approved drugs and my liver is shot. Just drinking lots of water and walking. Doctor appointment next week. I hope cannabis gets approved for medical research.

  2. For those of your who are Washington patients, I just want to let you know that we are writing new medical cannabis legislation that will be a model for the rest of the country. You, as a patient, will have more rights than you have today, not less. The law will address many of the current problems, like issues with CPS, DSHS, employment, concealed carry and many others. We will NEVER have a patient registry in Washington and there will NOT be a sales tax! We now have support from both Democrats and Republicans to seriously reform medical in Washington. And we’ll be watching with a certain amount of amusement as the LCB continues to make a total failure out of the “faux legal” recreational law in Washington. At least WE won’t be along for that ride!

    Steve Sarich
    Cannabis Action Coalition

  3. Russell Orsborn on

    sorry if I didn’t explain my self well. I am against registry, against I-502, and against anything else that takes away rights of MMJ users, just so greddy 502 retailers can make money off of me abd other patients, I don’t wan to be forced to be come a consumer. my comment was supposed to to decrying all the 50 year old BS that people used to say was science, if they want to use opinion as facts, they can go on the Nancy Grace show and pretend to use use science, instead of actually using science facts

  4. It was assumed by nearly everyone that the big money behind recreational money, along with a huge effort by the State Liquor Control Board and the Governor, were going to wipe out medical cannabis in Washington this last session. They plan was to deny us access to the clinics that are willing to write medical cannabis recommendations and limit us to getting our recommendations from our primary (or “principle”) healthcare provider. They knew this would be impossible, especially for veterans whose primary care comes from the VA.

    Because the proposed laws in both the House (HB2149) and the Senate (SB5887) called for throwing medical under the control of the Liquor Control Board, they both required a 2/3 super majority. As it turned out, they were able to get the 2/3 needed for both bills.

    But we fought back…like our lives depended on it. I moved into a hotel in Olympia for the last two weeks of the battle and patients came to Olympia from all corners of the state. We were there every single day talking to legislators and educating them on how these bill would have catastrophic effects on patients. Most of these legislator simply didn’t understand the issues.

    The Democratic leadership, who were responsible for pushing this legislation forward, chose to move SB5887 forward in the House. As the session came down to a close we had picked up so many Democratic votes in the House that they know they couldn’t get their 2/3 majority. At that point they stripped down the bill and removed all the sections that would require a change to I-502 so that they only needed a simple majority.

    By the final day we had picked up enough votes that this bill that had passed in the Senate with a 2/3 majority, couldn’t even get a simple majority in the House. Despite personal pressure on House members by the Governor, he couldn’t rally enough votes and the bill never made it to the floor.

    Roughly 50 marijuana bills were proposed in this last session….we killed every bad bill….every last one of them. Now all of those naysayers, like Russ Belville, who were gloating over the imminent death of medical, and blaming it on us, the medical cannabis activists, will just have to lick their wounds and whine about this issue till next year. Not that anyone really listens to Russ Belville anyway.

    Side Note: Russ was just up in Seattle for a recreational pot event and literally ran away from activists that tried to talk to him about his position. Russ….you truly are a little bitch.

    Steve Sarich
    Cannabis Action Coalition

  5. Uncle Arthur on

    That’s a good suggestion you made, so why don’t you just shut up?
    Sincerely,
    The guy that you called a douchebag just because you were butt hurt about my comments.

  6. Wow, Russ Belville, are you trying to sound like a douche bag on purpose? Can you write without sounding like a bleating sheep? Are you sure your not a woman and permanently on the rag (ya, ya, women, shut up, I’m a chick so I can say it. ) because you put out a little info and then BAM you sound like a bitch…..more info….whine, complain, moan and more bitch,,,,info…..bitch. Holy shit, take a Midol and then do your writing. If those “howling activists,” weren’t around, then we would be in the shit.

  7. Um…you just wrote a bunch of words and they were all stupid and made no sense. Maybe you should put the crack pipe away before you start typing little fella! Just the fact that you wrote the words Science and nonsense next to each other tells me you, my special little man, are a little light in the piazza, a tad shy of a full load of bricks, ya know, Looney! Yikes that must be embarrassing huh? Lets try this, little one, look up with your eyes, no…not up at the ceiling, look up higher on the web page, above these words, now read the words you wrote…..see how they don’t make sense next to each other? That’s right, your words are dumb aren’t they? There ya go pumpkin, now go run outside and play. Have a nice day sweetie. Bless your heart.

  8. Ok, no one jump me LOL I have no idea what i’m talking about, I’m just trying to figure all this shit out and by the time I do, everything will be changed again. Now, I don’t like the sound of the patient registry but is it so we don’t have to pay the taxes???? Or is it so they know the address of someone growing pot plants and they can check on you like your a damn sex offender. I hate the word registry!!!!

  9. Patient registry and med cards…….oh shit, ya I never even thought of that hahaha….we have been “registered” this whole time. I was all pissed they were going to know my name and they probably already knew it. Damn, right in front of my nose and never crossed my mind LOL

  10. It must be lovely to be you! It’s great that we have you “Uncle Arthur” as our “Conversational Administrator.” Attention everyone, Uncle Arthur, unbeknownst to us all, has decided that he will now oversee our written exchange of thoughts, opinions and feelings. Unfortunately he lacks the ability to recognize an actual “slur.” I’m sure you have your valid reasons for being rather annoying. I am also reasonably sure that a great number of people take Mr. Sarich seriously. My apologies to Mr. Sarich if I have stepped on your toes, as I am sure you are quite capable of replying for yourself. I found this simpleton merely too annoying and could not remain silent. Oh and Uncle Arthur…..shut up you douche bag!

  11. Wait….what? Sorry about my lack of knowledge about these stupid laws. I thought we ( MM patients were screwed by all this) This is what I have taken away from all I have read from different sites. It sounds like we have to register ( like we are damn criminals and they will know right where we live so they can check up on us) that we can only grow six plants, which sucks because I always kill 8 out of 15 of them because I have a black thumb. That they are shutting down dispensaries, which is horrible because I know nothing of different strains or their effects ( I have Lupus, Graves Disease, Spinal Stenosis and Fibromyalgia) The dispensary knows exactly what to give me, they mix things together and it’s perfect. I don’t like to feel high and they give me marijuana mixture that only makes my body high, it’s genius! I don’t want these asshole to know where I live. I am so worried! I guess I can go back to taking 20 vicodin a day, i’m sure they would like that better. I hate vicodin, it makes me feel sick. I wish it could stay the same at least for those of us who can prove we have stupid diseases anyways. Sorry…. i’m just pissed at the fact everything is about money and screw people who would benefit from MM. People are disgusting. I would never put money over people! Shut up ME!!

  12. He should stick to commenting on Oregon cannabis issues because NOBODY north of the Columbia River listens to…what’s-his-name anyway. Come to think of it, nobody south of the Columbia listens to him much either…

  13. Paul McClancy on

    Seems Russ Belville is the most hated activist in the cannabis community. He seems like a “take what I can get approach” guy to cannabis reformation. In the end, he realizes there can be a backlash in public opinion if cannabis laws are too liberal.

  14. This is so petty and childish. I’m not sure who “Radical Russ” is, but he certainly sounds immature, and seems to have his priorities skewed. And defending a patient registry? Really?

    Why is TheWeedBlog giving him a voice?

  15. Since Russ always roots for the enemies of medical cannabis, he’ll be sorry to here that WE WON today! We beat back the attack on medical today and defeated the big money lobbyists hired by the 502 businesses that wanted to force patients to shop at their recreational stores and turn us into criminals. We won’t have to pay pirate prices for mediocre schwag after all. Sorry Russ. Sorry Alison Holcomb. Sorry NORML! Screw all of you! We’ll be back with the best medical bill in the country next January and we’ve already lined up bipartisan support for it.

    Steve Sarich
    Cannabis Action Coalition

  16. Russell Orsborn on

    you really are unaware of anything but your own voice, maybe you and Nancy race can have a duet show, “It;s ALL about US”, the show doesn’t any facts or science nonsense we have opinions that are the only ones valid, wake up, not everybody can afford to play the “MMJ patients subsidize recreational program” game. GREEDY and SELFISH 502

  17. So what Russ is saying, is that because the legislature is trying to implement a very poorly written recreational law, that all medical patients should suffer for it. How about making the recreational law so it can compete with the medical law. Or better yet, how about letting all citizens grow their own plants. That is what freedom is all about. There is no government agency regulating how many tomato plants I can have in my backyard. Nor are they regulating the amount of any vegetable crop I can grow. I don’t have to sign up for a registry in order to grow any other plant out there. That is why I 502 isn’t a very well written law. Just last year Washingtonians voted to take liquor away from the liquor control board because we didn’t like the way they ran it. Now they want to force their same failed model onto cannabis and it won’t work. Anyone that knows anything about the cannabis plant knows that the average plant will harvest more than 3 ounces, putting the grower immediately out of compliance. What about that issue. Also there is no way for the state to enforce this law of a maximum amount allowed. Unless they take growing rights completely away from everyone. This not bad enough for you, as the state decides who the few people are that do get to grow and distribute, is there any doubt that there is corruption going on. The state is getting ready to let a billion dollar industry take root, but only a limited amount of people get to profit on it, hmmmmm no room for corruption there.

  18. Uncle Arthur on

    Steve, I’m sure you have your valid reasons for disagreeing with Russ. I also realize that you are very concerned about medical marijuana patients. But you won’t save medical marijuana by accusing people that you disagree with Holocaust slurs. It makes it hard to take you seriously.

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