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Friday, March 23, 2007

High Friends in Places

posted by on March 23 at 14:00 PM

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.”

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I am hoping that sometime before I die we will look back on fights like this and wonder what the big deal was, because pot will be 100% legal, for anyone, because we now have a country that allows adults to make their own damn decisions about what is right for them. We'll also wonder what the big deal about gay marriage was, and will look back on these days as the dark ages.

A girl can dream.

Posted by Dianna | March 23, 2007 2:09 PM

For an area that is so pro-marijuana, why do I have such a hard time getting some?

I'm with Dianna, I hope one day its no big deal and its regulated and easily available that those that need and want it.

Posted by Tom C. | March 23, 2007 2:16 PM

I haven't been able to find any weed for about a year, because the people I got it from either moved away or quit altogether. I wouldn't even know how to go about finding it now. It was easier when my friends were in bands, but now they have "real" jobs, spouses and kids. Weed is pretty much the only painkiller that has helped my arthritis without further damaging my heart and kidneys.

Dianna, I'm 43 and when I was a teen I thought by now pot would be legal and there would be no more racism, poverty, or homophobia. At least I wasn't so naive that we would have one of those George Jetson flying cars that could turn into a briefcase at the touch of a button.

Posted by elswinger | March 23, 2007 2:23 PM

Domenic - you seem to make light of the fact this is medical mary jane. Take the Ginger snaps over to the Stranger offices for the next puff out.

If you are sick, and we know many medical users are truly very sick, lack if supply and police harassement are not welcome - you are getting a salary from the ACLU to work on this issue, seems the game went sour somewhere.

Since the public supports this SO overwhelmingly, another ititiative is needed. Take the sucky ACLU and the weak knees Dems off the pot.

Posted by eric | March 23, 2007 2:27 PM

Well, there's a difference between how much you can have and how much you should have, and it depends on things like percentage of body fats, how frequently you medicate, metabolism, gender (hormones, really) ...

And then there's the question of what you should be able to do when you do that - should you be operating cranes in high winds, driving tractor trailers, working with welders underwater, that kind of thing.

So, it is kind of something one needs guidelines on, in consultation with an appropriately trained physician.

What? You thought you could just get high and not worry about the consequences? As if!

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 23, 2007 3:00 PM

The argument that legalizing weed, for any reason, is bad because, "I don't want my doctor, bus driver, heavy equipment operator, or cop to be on the job on it" is bullshit. I wouldn't want those people drunk either and liquor is legal.

I am a lightweight as a drinker, so a few beers will make me hungover for half the next day, but I can get totally fucked up on weed and I will be bright eyed and bushy tailed for work the next day.

Every legitimate study, even ones conducted by the government, show that marijuana use has less negative effects on the body and mind than alcohol or tobacco does. It is no more a gateway drug than spinning around in a circle until you fall down.

Posted by elswinger | March 23, 2007 3:12 PM

i used to spin around in circle. but lately, i find that it just isn't enough anymore.

Posted by infrequent | March 23, 2007 3:19 PM

elswinger - under those circumstances wouldn't you qualify for a prescription here in WA?

Posted by Tom C. | March 23, 2007 3:34 PM

I'm off to QFC to buy a case of Ready Whip. That should keep me stoned for about ten minutes.

Posted by elswinger | March 23, 2007 3:37 PM

Deptartment... that was on purpose, right?

Posted by Jason | March 23, 2007 3:45 PM

@6 - I didn't say it was a reason not to let people get high - just it's like alchohol or tobacco - both more addictive and destructive drugs - we don't want you driving while you're stoned.

Take the frickin bus.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 23, 2007 4:16 PM

my first real job was at denny's -- forgive me -- and the kids in the smoking section would always ask if i could sneak them a fresh bottle of whipped cream...

Posted by infrequent | March 23, 2007 4:46 PM

Getting a prescription is hard enough. getting it filled is even harder. My doctor doesn't mind if I smoke pot, but he is not about to write me a prescription for it.

Posted by elswinger | March 23, 2007 9:51 PM

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