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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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March 22, 2007 3:31 PM

Medical marijuana fight splits former friends

Posted by David Postman

A fight among medical marijuana advocates has gotten to the point that some patients say they will protest tomorrow outside the Seattle office of the ACLU. The ACLU is siding with Sen. Jeanne Kohl Welles, who sponsored SB 6032, a medical marijuana bill, and has amended it to end opposition from police and prosecutors. It passed the Senate last week and will be heard in the House Health Care Committee Monday at 1:30 p.m.

On the other side are some vocal critics among patients, their attorneys and marijuana advocates. "It's a prosecutors bill now, not a patient's bill," said Steve Sarich. He runs the Everett-based CannaCare that sells growing supplies and teaches people how to grow marijuana.

The split comes over the changes Kohl-Welles made that she said were necessary to get the bill passed this year. In its original form, SB 6032 would have provided extra legal protections for people possessing marijuana with a no-arrest provision and would have authorized growing cooperatives that could help distribute pot to patients.

Both those provisions were removed. Rather than growing cooperatives, the bill now takes a much smaller step forward. It would ask the Department of Health to adopt a rule defining what would be a presumptive 60-day supply of pot for a patient.

Kohl-Welles said the changes were necessary to get around opposition from the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys and the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs. She said the bill still includes many other provisions that would help protect users of medical marijuana:

"We've been trying to deal with this for a long time. Do you hold out for perfection, or do you try to get what is realistic?"

Alison Chinn Holcomb, director of the ACLU's Marijuana Education Project, said the bill still has "some really important protections built in for patients and providers."

"It's moving medical marijuana in the right direction. It provides clarity both to patients and providers and law enforcement about this vague term, 60-day supply, that is built in to the law. That has been a real concern, a source of fear for patients and their providers that ... someone is going to set some arbitrarily low amount for 60 day. And they're really afraid of government getting involved. And rightfully so — the federal government says there's no such thing as medical marijuana."

But Holcomb and Kohl-Welles say they trust the Department of Health to come up with good guidelines that later will provide greater protection to patients. Kathleen Taylor, executive director of the ACLU of Washington, sent a message out on the HempNet listserve — which is getting heavy traffic on the subject — explaining her organization's continued support.

These are good changes even though they are not all that we want.

Having watched the state legislature for 25+ years, I know that change comes slowly — too slowly. But that is the way the legislature works.

It is a long and grueling process.

Sarich says it's already been too long and will now only get drawn out further. He's afraid that involving the Department of Health will just be a delay tactic for those who don't want to strengthen protections for medical marijuana users.

"Look," he says, "the Department of Health doesn't tell your doctor how much medication you can have. But they want to tell us how much medicine we can have. I didn't think the bill was particularly strong to begin with but there were a couple of things in there. Now there's nothing in there that is good for patients."

He says that there will "a lot of angry medical marijuana patients with signs in Olympia" when the House Health Care Committee hears the bill. And he said he is organizing a protest for tomorrow at the ACLU, a group he holds particularly enmity for.

"We have been personal friends with a lot of those people at the ACLU and they are just absolutely screwing us. And they know they're doing it."

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