By Kris Hermes
Medical marijuana patient advocates praised a regulatory plan put forth earlier this week by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, while condemning the new aggressive enforcement approach proposed by City Attorney Pete Holmes. In addition to seeking taxes for patients under the guise of "waivers," Holmes suggests arresting and prosecuting medical marijuana providers, and abolishing the 16-year-old state law.
In the absence of state legislative action, Mayor Murray is attempting to address the proliferation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle by proposing a local regulatory solution. "I am hopeful that the Legislature will move forward to establish a statewide framework that addresses the future of medical marijuana," said Murray in a statement released this week. "In the absence of action at the state level, we must act here in Seattle."
Patient advocates underscore that the "Holmes Plan" to tax patients and impose felony charges on those trying to supply medical marijuana to qualified patients is an unacceptable policy prescription. "Shutting down all collective gardens is not the right solution because it leaves our patients out in the cold," continued Mayor Murray. "We have the responsibility to ensure the safety of patients and the character of our neighborhoods."
Washington State's attempts to regulate medical marijuana production and distribution hit a road block in 2011 when then-Governor Christine Gregoire vetoed parts of SB 5073, which passed both chambers of the state legislature. Patient advocates argue that the vetoed provisions, with minor adjustments, would go a long way to resolving the issues currently being debated.
The announcements from Mayor Murray and Holmes come one week before the state legislature begins its 2015 session. Multiple bills on this issue are expected to be introduced, but according to medical marijuana advocates none of them adequately address the needs of patients. National medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access (ASA) will be hosting a "citizen lobby day" in Olympia on January 22nd. So far, nearly 200 participants are registered to attend from at least 27 legislative districts all of whom will urge legislators to put the needs of patients before profits sought by adult-use proponents.
"Instead of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole by forcing medical marijuana into the adult-use program, policymakers should be adopting a regulatory framework that fully implements the state's 16-year-old medical use law, thereby better protecting and preserving the needs of patients," said ASA Washington State Coordinator Kari Boiter. "Washington voters never intended for Initiative 502 to act as a tax on the sick and adult-use campaigners vowed there would be no changes to the state's medical marijuana law."
The main argument by officials seeking to roll medical marijuana into the adult-use program -- that state revenues are being adversely impacted by medical marijuana dispensaries -- was undercut by the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, which issued a report in Novemberindicating that recreational marijuana sales were almost 50 percent higher than originally projected.
Medical marijuana advocates argue that the recently adopted budgetary measure restricting the Department of Justice (DOJ) from interfering in the implementation of medical marijuana laws like that of Washington State offers substantial protection for patients and their providers, but would no longer be relevant if Holmes and others abolish the medical use program.