Cops and Robbers

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.