Politics High Friends in Places
posted by March 23 at 14:00 PMon
A protest is underway outside my office at the ACLU of Washington, and the activists are protesting, well, me and my colleagues. They want our organization to withdraw support for a bill that would modify Washington’s medical-marijuana law. Last week the bill (.pdf) passed 39-10 in the state senate. And if it passes in the house, it would make a couple of technical fixes to the law and—here’s where it appears to hit a nerve—require the Department of Health to decide how much pot a patient can legally possess or cultivate. Patients are afraid the agency would impose unreasonable limits, thereby denying them the medicine they need. If the ACLU stops supporting the bill, they posit, it will die.
So, about 25 marijuana activists are chanting, picketing, and arguing about stuff. Meanwhile, the office is prepared: The front desk is armed with information about the bill and lemon-gingersnap cookies.
Personally, I think this bill can only make conditions better for patients in Washington. The existing medical-marijuana law, which passed by initiative in 1998, is broken. Due to a number of unfortunate court rulings and narrow interpretations from law enforcement, patients who are trying to abide by the law are getting busted and prosecuted. The problems stem from a provision that says patients can only possess a 60-day supply of pot. Lots of patients have a different idea of how much pot that is. Cops are equally confused by the ambiguity so they bust patients for having any marijuana and let the courts sort it out.
But as I see it, once a patient is in court it's already too late. A person suffering from cancer, AIDS, or another horrifying condition that qualifies a doctor to authorize the use of medical pot shouldn't have their home searched by a drug task force. They shouldn't be arrested. They shouldn't go to jail. They shouldn't need to hire a lawyer. And they shouldn't be afraid that those things may happen, either. Under our existing law, especially in conservative parts of the state, they are. Clarifying the amount of pot a patient can possess will prevent most arrests from happening in the first place. And patients who get busted anyway would still have the right to argue they need more pot and keep their affirmative defense.
Under the surface, though, it seems there is a larger, underlying issue. This current version of the bill differs from the one these same patients agreed should be, and originally was, introduced (.pdf). As is common when bills go through the legislature, the version that was introduced got changed. A couple provisions were lost; others were added (like the Department of Health clause). And now, even some of those who saw the draft bill as a step forward find this version too incremental. For continuing to support it, the ACLU has betrayed them, they argue. On the flip side, however, I would argue that incremental reforms have been among the only sturdy stepping stones on which movements have traversed controversial currents.
Oh, and how irate are they? Hell hath no fury, apparently... Rumor had it they were planning to make picket signs with my evil, evil face on them, embellished with devil horns and a goatee. I’m kinda disappointed they didn’t. One of those would have been a great addition to my office, in lieu of a diploma. Besides, I’ve always thought “Dominic” sounds an awful lot like “demonic.”