Washington State patients have had the right since 1998, but few have had legal access to medical cannabis. Most marijuana patients have relied on black or grey market sources. With an increase in medical recommenders allowed in 2010, thousands of new patients have entered the marketplace, along with a plethora of dispensaries that have bravely opened their doors.
This year, Senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles introduced SB 5073, a Bill to allow regulated dispensaries. Following months of wrangling, SB 5073 passed the Senate and House with bipartisan support. Medical marijuana patients and providers rejoiced in the proposed legislation. Advertisement of medical distributors exploded, turning the grey market to green, astonishing the traditional medical marijuana community, which had remained underground for over a decade.
The burgeoning marijuana culture was not lost on federal drug enforcers. Spring of 2011 marked a new assault on medical access across the nation, and pointedly in the Evergreen State. Feds threatened to prosecute patient organizations and proved their sincerity by raiding shops in Spokane, just as SB 5073 landed on the Governor's desk. Gov. Gregoire caved in to the pressure, citing the threat of federal prosecution as her reason for a veto of most sections of 5073, a move that decimated the new business model already in practice by more than 100 retailers. That twist of events turned the grey market jet black, leaving scores of dispensary owners out in the open, without a legal leg to stand on.
Sen. Kohl-Welles and other sponsors quickly whipped up Senate Bill 5955, a modified measure that would allow cooperatives in place of dispensaries, with strict rules, such as a 99-plant limit, nonprofit licensing, and registration mandatory for those seeking arrest protections. To counter Gregoire's objections, regulation authority was placed in the hands of local jurisdictions.
A majority of advocates have voiced opposition to SB 5955, largely due to the registry requirements. During the Bill's public hearing on May 11th, some detractors contended that many areas would use the new rules to simply ban cannabis groups. Still, there remains a worse outcome at hand. Officer Pierce of the Sheriffs' Association used the word "chaos" to describe the legal mess. Police generally opposes dispensaries, while supporting the Registry. Yet one lawman strongly supports 5955. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg released a letter in favor of the "fixer" Bill. Seattle's top cop explained, ". . . the law that will go into effect, if no alternative comes forward, makes these dispensaries clearly illegal, setting up a showdown with no winners."
With Mayor McGinn and City Attorney Pete Holmes in public support of marijuana legalization, and with special marijuana policy meetings on the city's calendar, it appears Seattle intends to resolve the issue, regardless of the outcome of statewide measures. While it is likely there will remain a majority of counties electing to deny access to this life-saving medication, Seattle is now prepared to take a stand to protect public safety and implement legal access to nature's greatest medicine.
By Martin Martinez