...is paved with good intentions. And state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles's medical-marijuana bill—pulled together after years of work with law enforcement and activists—was 24 karat goodwill. But the result is more of a catastrophe than I'd realized.
While reporting for the paper that hits streets tomorrow, sources explained the ramifications of Governor Gregoire's partial veto last Friday. This wasn't simply a missed opportunity to improve conditions for sick people, it turns out, but actually a step backward. Because some parts of the bill weren't vetoed, a practically random set of other parts will become law. They get overlaid—with little context from the bill—onto the medical marijuana law voters passed in 1998. As a result, new restrictions for patients (what's left after the veto) without added protections (what was vetoed) will expose more sick people and caretakers to prosecution.
To make sense of the problem now, we've got to step back to examine the old law we had before. It said that that a care provider, designated by the patient, could grow or provide marijuana to one patient at one time. A clever interpretation of that law says a dispensary could serve hundreds, even thousands, of patients by serving them one at a time. Prosecutors weren't stupid about what was going on, but they they didn't want to prosecute (the seriously ill can't farm a pot garden, after all). So many prosecutors enjoyed the arguably gray area in the law, turning a blind eye.
That's where the partially vetoed bill enters the picture.
The bill would have allowed dispensaries and arrest protection for patients, but Gregoire nixed those provisions (legal experts say her justification was bogus). But Gregoire let stand another part of the bill that restricts a care provider to one patient every 15 days. The new bill also defines cooperatives as groups of no more than 10 patients growing 45 plants.
That would turn the gray area of medical marijuana black and white: No multiple patients, no large cooperatives, no dispensaries.
The remaining situation is “worse for patients, cities, and counties” than it was before, says Kohl-Welles. And Ian Goodhew, deputy chief of staff for the King County Prosecuting Attorney Office, agrees: “We are even in more flux than before this bill was initiated and passed.” Unless the legislature moves in the next few weeks to allow local governments to pass their own regulations for dispensaries—which many watching the bill say is unlikely—Goodhew believes King County prosecutors may lack the wiggle room to ignore dispensary operators.
Given a spate of raids in Spokane last week and virtual certainty that dispensaries won't be covered by state laws, Lonnie Phillips, owner of Seattle Alternative Medicine Collective on Aurora Avenue North, worries that he may have to shut down and that patients too ill to cultivate their own marijuana to treat cancer, HIV, and other ailments “aren’t going to be able to get the access that they need.”
Others are more blunt:
"We have had the single largest setback to medical cannabis in 15 years," says Cannabis Defense Coalition director Ben Livingston. "We have lost faith in the process and we want to run home with our tails between our legs and salvage what we can."
Defense attorney Douglas Hiatt puts it this way: “This thing is a disaster. Pushing the goddamn bill through, putting it on the governor’s desk, and then daring her to sign it—someone who is not running and has got nothing to lose—was just an idiotic idea.”
For her part, the governor insists she had the best of intentions, too. She wanted to protect the rights of patients but didn't want state employees to be prosecuted for issuing dispensary licenses. "I am acutely aware of how important this is for medical patients," she said last Friday. Then she picked up her veto pen and created this whole mess.