This fall, sober public servants will convene meetings across
Washington State to answer a pressing question: How much marijuana
constitutes a two-month supply?
What may seem like an odd question for straight-laced government
types to tackle is a serious attempt to shore up the Northwest
state's medical marijuana law, which has been around for nearly a
decade without clearly defining the 60-day supply patients are allowed to have
Now, after years of attempts to amend the law, the state Health
Department has been ordered to spell out how much marijuana makes up
the theoretical two-month cache.
Police support change
Prosecutors and police generally support the change, saying it
should help officers determine whom to arrest and whom to leave alone.
The American Civil Liberties Union and some state lawmakers think it
could be the beginning of even broader reforms by the state's
But some patients wish the state would not bother, fearing that the
government will make the limits too restrictive and cause more arrests
for people in frail health.
If the law is going to be changed, dissenters would rather see
stronger protection from arrest or an allowance for group growing
operations. Defining the 60-day supply, they say, is a do-nothing
compromise aimed mostly at pleasing law enforcement.
"Once again, politics have trumped patients' rights. Once again,
politics have trumped science," said Dale Rogers, head of Seattle's
Compassion in Action Patient Network, which distributes medical
Washington's medical marijuana law was approved by nearly 60 percent
of voters in 1998, following closely behind California in the first
wave of such measures nationwide.
Allowed to recommend marijuana
Under the law, doctors are allowed to recommend marijuana for people
suffering from "intractable pain" and several serious diseases,
including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.
Marijuana patients can be prosecuted, but may avoid conviction by
proving a legitimate medical need. Like anywhere else in the country,
nothing in state statute shields a patient from prosecution under
federal law, which does not recognize medical uses for marijuana.
Unlike the 11 other laws that protect medical marijuana users from a
state criminal conviction, Washington has never set a specific limit
for the amount of pot each patient is allowed to have.
In Oregon, patients are allowed up to 24 ounces (680 grams) of pot
and two dozen plants at different stages of growth. New Mexico, the
latest state to pass a medical marijuana law, plans to allow up to 6
ounces (170 grams) of marijuana, four mature plants and three immature
"Law enforcement officers in the field were put in the position of
throwing their hands up in the air and saying, `We'll let the judge and
the jury sort that out,"' said Alison Holcomb, director of the state
ACLU's Marijuana Education Project.
Growing one’s own supply
An activist group highlighted the confusion around Washington's law
last year when it asked county officials how many plants medical
marijuana patients were allowed for growing their own supply.
One county said the answer was easy: zero. Others had formulas that
accounted for the different stages of plant growth.
"The truth is, nobody's number had any legal precedence or greater
validity than your number or my number," said Tom McBride, executive
secretary of the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.
In some cases, the gray area has served as a legal shield, allowing
patients and their doctor to argue in court how much marijuana they
need, said Douglas Hiatt, a defence lawyer who specializes in medical
"We can't have an outside health authority dictate to our doctors
how much a patient should use," Rogers said.
Opponents fear the limit will end up being artificially low. Unlike
standard medicines, marijuana varies in potency. Add that to the array
of serious conditions it can be recommended to treat, and usage among
patients varies quite a bit.
Ric Smith, a long-time medical marijuana user from Seattle, typically
lights up before meals to treat the nausea that comes with his HIV
In any given week, Smith burns through anywhere from 7 grams to
about an ounce. Without it, even the smallest disturbance can be too
much to handle.
On the edge
"When you're at the top of the roller coaster and you just start
over the other edge? It's that feeling, 24 hours a day," Smith said. "A
pin drop, a bird flying by, a butterfly landing on your nose - anything
will make you throw up."
Hiatt and others who will lobby health regulators this fall will
cite a marijuana dosing study led by Dr. Gregory Carter, a University
of Washington rehabilitation-medicine specialist.
Following the study's guidelines, Hiatt said, patients should be
allowed anywhere from a half-pound to 2 3/4 pounds (230 grams to 1.2
kilograms) of marijuana in two months. If the Health Department goes
drastically lower, Hiatt said a lawsuit could follow.
"I know the people of Washington State didn't want lawyers and
judges and prosecutors arguing about little piddling details like this,"
Hiatt said. "Is the person sick? Yes. Are they using it with a doctor's
permission? Yes. Then leave them alone." – (Sapa)
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