Governor Gregoire appeared on KUOW’s The Conversation yesterday and discussed a number of topics, one of which being the ongoing effort to establish medical marijuana limits for Washington State (to listen to the show, open up the Recent Shows dropdown and select the 5/22 entry, skip ahead to about 35:10). She admitted that the Department of Health will not have set limits by the July 1 deadline, but wasn’t very truthful about why the deadline will be missed. Here’s what she said:

The question for doctors is “how much should a person need on a daily basis?” And we’re trying to get our arms around that, and frankly struggling because there doesn’t seem to be any science around this.

So we went out and did a bunch of public hearings, and patients and patient advocates showed up. But we didn’t have any physicians who came to testify to say “here’s what I think is a reasonable amount to prescribe on any given day.” We had no law enforcement show up to say “Whatever you do, let us tell you what is enforceable from a law enforcement perspective and what is not.” So that’s why we’ve stepped away from the initial recommendation to say – ok, does this work? Is this right? And if it’s not right, what is?”

I’ve been in communication with several people who were at these workshops and they can easily refute the Governor’s claims here. One of them is third year UW medical student Sunil Aggarwal, who has done research and contributed to a peer-reviewed article on medical marijuana dosing. You can see him speaking at the Seattle workshop right here:

Aggarwal also sent me this list of three peer-reviewed papers on dosing:

Aggarwal SK, Kyashna-Tocha M, Carter GT. Dosing Medical Marijuana: Rational Guidelines on Trial in Washington State. Medscape General Medicine.2007;9(3):52. Epub 2007 Sept 11.

Carter GT, Weydt P, Kyashna-Tocha M, Abrams DI. Medical marijuana: rationalguidelines for dosing. IDrugs. 2004;7:464-470.

Russo E, Mathre M, Byrne A, et al. Chronic cannabis use in the compassionate investigational new drug program: an examination of benefits and adverse effects of legal clinical cannabis. J Cannabis Ther. 2002;2:3–57.

Contrary to Gregoire’s claims, written testimonies were submitted to the workshops by Dr. Gregory Carter (here) and Dr. Ethan Russo (here). In addition to this testimony, several nurses also spoke.

An even bigger lie is about law enforcement officials not being present. At the Vancouver workshop, members of the Clark-Skamania Drug Task Force were present and even spoke. At the Yakima workshop, Yakima County Prosecutor Ron Zirkle was in attendance, but did not testify. The Governor is making it appear as if members of law enforcement and the medical community were left out of the process. They weren’t. In addition, the law enforcement officials who did show up and testify (in Vancouver, at least) said that setting the limits shouldn’t be up to them, but instead up to the medical professionals.

This is part of what bothers me the most about this situation, possibly even more than the lying. Law enforcement shouldn’t be a required party in an exercise that deals with establishing a figure based upon science (and to be fair, neither should activists). And most law enforcement officials recognize that. But Gregoire continues to insist that they’re an integral part of setting the limits and is willing to endanger the deadline over it. This is just irresponsible considering that medical marijuana patients in this state are still being hauled into court by those same law enforcement officials because of the lack of clear limits.

Other states have gone through this exercise and established limits. It can be done, and there’s scientific evidence out there to go on. At this point, I’m finding it very hard not to conclude that the Governor is interfering in this process for reasons that she’s reluctant to be honest about and that’s why it’s being delayed. If I receive any statements or information from Gregoire’s office, I’ll post an update here.

Carol Ostrom writes in the Seattle Times about the problems the state Department of Health (DOH) is having in establishing the 60-day limits for medical marijuana users:

A state Health Department proposal that medical-marijuana patients be allowed more than 2 pounds of pot every two months took law enforcement by surprise and prompted the governor to tell health officials to start over.

Faced with a legislative mandate to spell out what constitutes a “60-day supply” by July 1, the department in February briefed Gov. Christine Gregoire’s office on its recommendation: Patients or caregivers could possess up to 35 ounces of cultivated marijuana and be allowed a plant-growing area of 100 square feet.

Gregoire promptly directed Department of Health Secretary Mary Selecky to solicit more comment from law enforcement and medical providers. “I wouldn’t say she was upset” by the amount, said Gregoire’s spokesman, Pearse Edwards, but she believed input had been one-sided.

When I met with the patients a month ago, one of the them had filed an information request and learned of the proposed 35 ounce limit and the patients found that limit to be reasonable. For a recreational smoker that would sound like a lot, but these people aren’t recreational smokers, they are people who need the drug at all times to cope with either debilitating pain or other serious illnesses. Some of the patients also consume it within food, which requires much more of it. The number is also within the range of other limits imposed in other medical marijuana states.

Law enforcement, on the other hand, was not happy with the proposed limits and have derailed the process:

Officially, law-enforcement leaders say they just want a number — any number — for the amount of pot qualified users can possess. They say they’re not doctors and they wouldn’t presume to set an amount any more than they would tell a patient how much cholesterol medication to take.

But when pressed, they express discomfort with the amounts revealed to the governor in the briefing.

Don Pierce, executive director of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs, said he’s been invited to an upcoming “stakeholder” meeting by the Health Department. He said the amounts originally proposed by the department “fly in the face of reasonableness from our perspective.”

While I expect the law enforcement community to be an obstacle in this process, the DOH is also under fire for not having doctors involved in establishing the limits. The DOH is now consulting with both doctors and law enforcement and now they’re likely to miss the July 1 deadline, which leaves some medical marijuana patients with charges pending in the lurch.

The law enforcement officials in this state are trying their best to claim that they are agnostic to the overall process and just want a number, but this is obviously not the case. Their pre-existing prejudices about marijuana as medicine are not far beneath the surface.

Pierce, a former Bellingham police chief, says sheriffs and police chiefs have always maintained that setting a limit on a 60-day supply “is really a medical decision that should be determined by physicians.”

His group, he says, has told the department: “You shouldn’t be talking to the law-enforcement community to find out what the right number is, any more than you should be talking to the advocate community.”

But on this issue, Pierce says, doctors aren’t willing to step forward. “Most physicians are reluctant to identify what the appropriate supply is, because many of them don’t feel there is an appropriate supply.”

That’s just misleading. Many physicians in this state are reluctant to identify what the appropriate supply is because:

1) It can vary greatly from patient to patient, and there just isn’t a lot of scientific data to go on at this point
2) Doctors who work with medical marijuana patients still face pressure from the institutions they work for, or from insurance companies

The second point was echoed by several patients in that same Seattle meeting. None of them seemed to understand why there’s so much reluctance here on the part of doctors to prescribe it (as opposed to a state like California where obtaining a medical marijuana card from a doctor is considerably easier). This is something I hope to learn more about in the next few months as this disaster continues to unfold, and more and more people who mistakenly thought they were protected by a voter-approved law are being dragged into courts all over the state.

Dominic Holden is agonizing over the Biden VP pick, as are other drug law reformers. I don’t think drug law reform was even a passing consideration to Obama when it came to selecting a VP, so I don’t see his pick of Biden as an endorsement of his truly horrific record. And even though I think that Obama understands the drug war much better than he lets on, I doubt he even considered how bad it looks that he just picked a VP who is possibly more to blame than any other American for the devastation that the drug war has brought upon African American communities.

But Dominic makes the one point at the end that I find to be mildly reassuring:

Obama cannot alter drug laws on his own—he’s lived a youth of indiscretions. (Realistically, no politician can make any sweeping changes; it must be incremental.) But if anyone has the credibility at the federal level to say we were wrong, to push the Senate for sentencing reform, to back Barney Frank’s bill in the House to decriminalize pot—nobody is more more capable than Joe Biden. And if he does, this could be an excellent four years.

I hope he’s right. It helps to remember that Franklin Roosevelt ran against prohibition in the 1932 election, after being its proponent for a long time. Politicians will always shift in the wind. It just takes enough of us to start blowing in the opposite direction from how its been blowing for the past four decades. And it would help if he had a good conversation with his colleague from Virginia, who understands the need for drug law reform better than anyone in that body.