Sunday, October 05, 2008

State rule clarifies 60-day supply of medical marijuana

A new rule determining how much pot constitutes a 60-day supply for medical-marijuana users was finalized on Thursday, a decade after Washington voters passed an initiative legalizing marijuana for people suffering from terminal and debilitating illnesses.

The new state rule, which goes into effect Nov. 2, sets the supply limit at 24 ounces of usable marijuana plus 15 plants. Those who need more marijuana to manage their pain will have to prove they need it — though how they would do that remains unclear.

While the new, 60-day-supply rule is meant to clarify the law and help police officers determine legitimate amounts, medical-marijuana advocates say the amounts are unreasonable — especially the 15-plant limit — and put patients at risk of criminal prosecution.

In King County, though, that's not going to happen, said Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg, who has met with local law-enforcement officials and created an office policy that looks upon medical-marijuana cases "with a very lenient eye."

"Having this rule, having some amount ... is helpful, but it's not the end of the analysis," Satterberg said. "If you're in King County and you're dying of cancer, we're not going to prosecute you if you have 15 plants or 30. If somebody is legitimately ill, we're not going to prosecute that case, period."

In 1998, Initiative 692 legalized marijuana for medical purposes. Passed by 59 percent of Washington voters, the initiative said patients with valid certification from their doctors could possess a 60-day supply — but never said how much pot that was. The confusion and uncertainty led to conflict between police and patients.

Last year, the Legislature ordered the state Department of Health to spell out an acceptable amount. An early recommendation put the limit at 35 ounces of usable pot plus 100 square feet of growing space. That proposal was changed after Gov. Christine Gregoire's policy analysts urged the health department to get more input from law-enforcement agencies and medical experts because the amounts appeared to be on the high side.

Earlier this year, the draft rule was changed to 24 ounces of usable pot, six mature plants and 18 immature ones. The new rule finalized Thursday, however, doesn't differentiate between mature and immature plants.

The rule also drops a requirement included in the earlier draft that patients get a doctor's note if they need more marijuana than the determined 60-day supply. The department opted "for more general wording" to better reflect what is written in state law, said Health Department spokesman Tim Church.

During a public hearing in August, many patients argued that their doctors were unlikely to write them a note because of the controversy surrounding supply limits, he said.

The department didn't come up with an alternative to a doctor's note because that wasn't their task from the Legislature. While Church acknowledged that the new language muddies the waters some, he said it will now "be up to patients and the courts to determine what medical necessity is" and how to prove it.

Gregoire's spokeswoman, Laura Lockard, said Thursday the governor "wanted the department to have a solid sense of wide-ranging opinions and information to develop the best possible rule. She feels they have done that."

But doctors and patient advocates say the new 60-day limit is woefully inadequate and could have a chilling effect on physicians if they have to go to court to defend their medical opinions.

"I'm disappointed. I think it's more politically driven — they used politics rather than science" in determining amounts, said Dr. Greg Carter, a clinical professor of rehabilitation medicine at the University of Washington. Carter was one of the first researchers to report marijuana's effectiveness in treating the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease.

"The state is really not operating in the best interest of sick people who require this medicine," Carter said.

Steve Sarich, the executive director of CannaCare, an advocacy group that provides patients with starter plants, said the health department "has set up a law you can't possibly follow." He said the rule doesn't take into account marijuana's growing cycle, which exceeds 60 days, or the fact that someone would need to plant 60 plants in the hope that 15 or 20 of them might reach maturity.

Alison Holcomb, the drug-policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington, said the new rule "is a step in the right direction," even though it doesn't begin to address the practical matter of accessing medical marijuana.

"Twenty-four ounces and 15 plants is a heck of a lot clearer than '60-day supply,' " she said. "It gives an average law-enforcement officer a very quick and easy way to determine if they're in compliance, move on and leave that patient in peace."

But Douglas Hiatt, an attorney who represents medical-marijuana patients, disagrees. He said he plans to file a lawsuit to have the limits thrown out.

"No one I know is in compliance with the number of plants. No one," he said. "We will drown in cases if we can't get this rule stopped and keep it out of the hands of law enforcement."

Satterberg said that, at least in King County, he's advised law-enforcement officers not to confiscate patients' pot supplies on the spot, even if they seem questionable.

Essentially, Satterberg's policy says, growers — including cooperatives — won't be prosecuted unless prosecutors believe the operation is a front for distributing marijuana to those who are not ill. He said Thursday that his office hasn't yet encountered any such illegal operation.

Satterberg said he's told local police agencies and the sheriff's office that "If there are any questions [about a patient's legitimacy], officers should take a small sample and some photos and give us a call."


Why Rick Steves believes marijuana should be decriminalized and regulated

With my work on the ACLU-produced TV program Marijuana: It's Time for a Conversation, support of NORML (a group working to decriminalize marijuana in the USA) and willingness to talk at Seattle's Hempfest as well as at other events, some people are wondering what's motivating me. Let me explain:

I support the decriminalization of marijuana among responsible adult users in the USA. ("Decriminalization" does not mean unfettered use — it simply means NOT mandating that use is a criminally punishable offense.)

I do NOT support the legalization of hard drugs.

Like most of Europe, I believe marijuana is a soft drug (like alcohol and tobacco), not a hard drug. Like alcohol and tobacco, it should be treated as a health rather than a criminal issue. Crime should only enter the equation if it is abused to the point where innocent people are harmed.

I do not support children using marijuana (or alcohol or tobacco). In fact I don't advocate smoking marijuana at all. I believe, however, that if mature adults want to smoke marijuana recreationally in the privacy of their own homes that is their own decision. That's why Nadine Strossen, president of the ACLU, Norm Stamper, former Seattle police chief, and I serve together on the board of directors of NORML.

Why do I care?

Last year over 800,000 Americans were arrested on marijuana charges — a 100% increase since 1980. Well over 80% of these arrests were for simple possession. Many of these people were sentenced to mandatory prison time. Our courts and prisons are clogged with non-violent people whose only offense is smoking, buying or selling marijuana. While our nation is in a serious financial crisis, it spends literally billions of dollars annually chasing down responsible adults who are good, tax-paying citizens in all regards except for the occasional use of marijuana. Arresting people for marijuana use is laughable now in most of Europe. Canada is now following the European model. After ten years of treating marijuana as a medical issue rather than a criminal one in the Netherlands, law enforcement officials there report no increase in the use of pot. They also report that by decriminalizing marijuana, the crime related to it simply evaporates. "Harm reduction" is the measure of an effective, pragmatic, and enlightened drug policy in Europe and Canada.

The propaganda war our government wages against the use of marijuana is not only expensive in terms of money but it erodes its credibility among young people in regards to other more serious drugs. The White House even runs ads during the Super Bowl claiming (between all the beer ads) that marijuana causes teen pregnancies. As it has politicized science and medicine and so much else in our society, the White House has recently sent a summary of the evils of marijuana to all prosecutors in the USA with a litany of entirely false claims. These are refuted one by one at

With the tenor of our country right now, dealing with the prohibition on marijuana is considered political suicide for most elected officials. Teachers I know tell me they will put their jobs in jeopardy if they question the deceitful (and generally considered somewhere between ineffective and counterproductive) DARE program which indoctrinates children about the evils of marijuana. Average Americans embrace this big lie because it is scary to question it. I refuse to lie to my children about a fun soft drug that the majority of my friends and workmates have enjoyed at some time in the past. I have explained to my children my position on the senselessness of continuing this expensive and counter-productive war on marijuana users. They respect my honesty and I have won credibility in their eyes.

The credibility of parents, teachers, police and our government is important if we are to help our children resist the temptation to mess their lives up with drugs. Credibility on all counts suffers with the current "war on marijuana."

We've been there.

Prohibition on alcohol (1920-1933) finally fell apart in our grandparents' age because Americans came to realize that the criminalizing of alcohol did not reduce its consumption. But did succeed brilliantly in: filling jails with unlucky drinkers who got caught; creating a stubborn network of "underground distribution" crime where none had existed before; and diverting enormous government resources to violate people's personal privacy. Prohibition was a classic example of a hoped for cure that brought more harm to society than the problem it was designed to tackle. It was Big Government at its worst. And our grandparents courageously stood up and said, "stop this waste!" In the early 1930s, our society didn't say booze is good. It concluded that criminalizing it only made the problem worse. Looking back, we know that was the right conclusion.

With the prohibition on marijuana, we are dealing with a similar problem today. In the name of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, we'll all be better off when we let our police officers, courts and prisons deal with real criminals and start taxing marijuana rather than arresting those who enjoy using it.

Rick Steves


Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home