02 Nov Medical Marijuana’s Future in Washington State
On October 21st, 2013 the Washington State Liquor Control Board released the draft recommendations of the Medical Marijuana Work Group (Work Group). For those who do not know, this organization is composed of representatives of the Liquor Control Board, Department of Revenue, as well as the Department of Health. This group’s assignment was to draft proposals for Medical Cannabis in the coming legislative session.
The self-described intent behind the rules is to reduce the amount of people hiding behind medical in order to conduct illicit business. What these rules will actually do, if adopted, is limit qualified patients in nearly every aspect including growing, possession limits, as well as requiring them to become part of a state registry. The recommendations will also reduce a doctor’s ability to diagnose a person with a defined “debilitating condition” and authorize their use of medical cannabis.
Limitations on Growing
For over a decade patients have been able to grow their own cannabis for use to treat certain debilitating or terminal conditions. This was largely due to the lack of safe access for patients to purchase their medicine. Since there were little or no means to purchase cannabis outside the black market, the voters and the legislature have allowed patients to grow their own. With the Work Group recommendations, scaled growing would be coming to an end. Under Section 4 of the recommendation, the board proposes to eliminate Collective Gardens. Collective gardens allowed up to ten patients to grow together up to 45 plants and possess up to 72 ounces of useable cannabis.
The collective garden and designated provider has served many people who either do not have the access to resources for growing or do not have the skills and knowledge to effectively grow cannabis. By allowing multiple patients to select one grow site and become a member of that collective garden it opened up safe access to their medicine and also provided an economy of scale. By growing in a group, costs go down and exposure to collateral consequences of misguided law enforcement are reduced.
The Work Group wants to eliminate Collective Gardens so alleged “drug dealers” cannot hide behind the protection and therefore work around defined plant limits. This is a very shortsighted way to look at things and will unnecessarily impact terminal and debilitated patients from the ability to access affordable medicine. There will always be people who manipulate the laws for illegal gain, some will even find a way to work around I-502 or the new Medical that is unfolding. Historically, people have always taken advantage of each meaningful, social or economic system the citizens have ever implemented. Whether we speak of Social Security, Unemployment, or Medicare. We do not eliminate an entire program, simply because of the nefarious few. By punishing terminal and debilitated patients for this perceived illicit drug trade, the Work Group is hurting people that need help with no regard for their well-being and providing no alternative means for these drastic changes to safe access to medicine.
I would propose what the Work Group meant to say is that the Access Point Model is advancing under the collective garden model. If the Work Group does not like Access Points, just say so. To be clear, without the Access Point Model, born from the collective garden law, the WSLCB would not know the first thing about how to set up a Recreational Marijuana State Store. Testing, security, quality control, large-scale grows and advanced genetics, just to name a few. The largest advances in bringing cannabis to consumers has occurred in the last two years under the Access Point Model. We invited the WSLCB into our grows and access points without reservation. We shared our knowledge and experience. You can thank us later by giving us meaningful regulation rather than trying to drown medical marijuana in a bathtub with a teaspoon of water (forgive the mixed metaphors).
As for home grows, the Work Group is proposing to eliminate home grows. This means that sick patients or patients on a fixed income will have to purchase their medicine through a taxed and regulated market. Many people use Medical Cannabis because they cannot afford to use costly prescriptions. Or, worse still, after trying numerous pharmaceuticals, they found no other medicine that would help their affliction. By allowing a patient to grow their own medicine or designated providers to grow medicine for qualifying patients, it allowed safe, affordable access to medical cannabis. By eliminating this ability, the work group is placing low-income persons to go without their medicine or turn back to harmful, and sometimes fatal, pharmaceuticals, if they can afford them. To date, no one has ever died from a cannabis overdose, but millions have died from “safe” pharmaceuticals. The reasoning cited by the Work Group is that now medical cannabis users have safe access, there is no need for patients to grow cannabis or possess large limits. Ignoring the CBD and THC argument, a more cautious and intelligent approach would allow legislature to determine whether such access can be realized (remember, I-502 stores do not exist) and how much the cannabis would cost those with limited incomes.
Since the Department of Health introduced the 60 day supply, patients have been able to grow up to fifteen plants and possess up to 24 ounces of useable cannabis. This may seem excessive but that is not the case. For recreational users, a pound and a half is a lot of cannabis. To a medical user, it is not. By processing cannabis into edibles or concentrates, such as the famed Rick Simpson Oil for the treatment of cancer, it takes a great deal of dry cannabis flowers to process the oil. An average return on processing dry cannabis flowers is between 8% and 20%. If you have 24 ounces and process it into Rick Simpson Oil, then you would have approximately 54 and 134 grams of Rick Simpson Oil. In order to follow the program that has successfully treated cancer in patients, you need to consume at least 60 grams the oil within 60 days. If you are not good at growing potent medicine or you are not an expert in processing this oil, you may very well end up short of the recommended supply to treat your condition. However, the Work Group is proposing to reduce possession limits to three ounces, a one week supply. Under those restrictions, the treatment guidelines cannot be followed by patients , nor will they be able to make their own or obtain it from a processor. This puts terminal patients in a very terrifying position of breaking the law or foregoing treatment.
State registries are largely limited to sex offenders and gun owners in the interest of public safety. Now the Work Group is suggesting that patients register in the same fashion. This registry is mandatory, as recommended. The Work Group believes a registry is necessary to document sales through the Department of Revenue and Law Enforcement to verify the tax-exempt purchases. Virtually every other state utilizes a registry and, without fail, Federal or State law enforcement agencies have seized or compromised cannabis registries. These registries are not safe and secure. They invite speculation on compliance and a simple short-cut around the 4th amendment protections laid out by our State and Federal constitution.
There is no public safety concern to require a patient to register and be part of a database. Most patients are not even well enough to be considered a danger to anyone. The medical cannabis community sees the registry as nothing more than a list of persons who “may” be in violation of the law. The registry offers no additional protection to patients and has no real purpose other than verifying tax-exempt purchases. If they didn’t restrict patients to point of sale purchases there would be no need for a registry. If patients could grow at home there would be no need for a registry. More importantly, the Federal government has consistently prevailed in obtaining medical cannabis registries from the States that have implemented a registry.
Doctors have been under the protection of the Medical Cannabis Act for some time and, other than a limited few, coloring outside the lines, it has worked with little issue. The new proposed rules will limit the doctor’s ability to recommend the use of cannabis. The first recommendation is clearly defining “debilitating” and “intractable pain” by creating a framework that indicates the condition must be severe enough to significantly interfere with a patients activities of daily living and ability to function. These are all ambiguous terms and they want to clearly define them. Good luck. This is completely subjective to each person.
The work group also wants all authorizations given by a doctor to fall under the same requirements used prescribe opioids to manage chronic pain. The only issue is that some opioids are classified different from others. For example, a popular opioid such as Vicodin is regulated differently than Oxycontin, due to the different schedule of the drugs. With Cannabis being a schedule 1 substance, at both the state and federal level, under the law, there is no medicinal benefit to cannabis. If we are going to start making some sincere legislation that reflects the laws already in place, we encourage legislature to remove cannabis from schedule 1 in our state law.
There is also a recommendation from the Work Group of year-long authorizations being abandoned in exchange for 3 month authorizations. The purpose, as provided by the Work Group, is that there is a clear and concise doctor-patient relationship in order to reduce so-called “authorization mills.”
This 3 month authorization, once again raises a problem for low-income patients that cannot afford to pay for these authorizations every year, let alone every 3 months. Recently, these low-income patients were granted an affirmative defense in court through medical necessity, which stated, if you can prove you have a debilitating condition relieved by medical cannabis, without a valid authorization, and you can prove this by a preponderance of evidence, you are entitled to an defense before a jury. In the same breath, the Work Group recommends the removal of the medical necessity. Awesome. Well played Work Group. Screw poor people!
This is the Voice of Doom speaking! Special bulletin! Flash! The sky is falling!
If implemented, the Work Group recommendations based on misguided agencies, greed, paranoia, and back-door politics will overturn the will of the voters, the legislature, and the Supreme Court. In an effort to “regulate” and license Medical cannabis the Work Group is stripping away what patients and their attorneys have fought so hard to maintain for nearly 20 years. Eliminating safe access, a complete defense for patients, as well as an affirmative defense for those who cannot afford to get an authorization.
I suppose none of the people in the trenches are particularly surprised by the hostility exhibited in these recommendations to legislature. Despite numerous petitions, the Department of Health has been openly hostile during hearings for adding conditions for the use of cannabis. And the Department of Health has scoffed at the notion of rescheduling cannabis at the State level (denied three times in the last five years). We did not expect an ally there. In addition, activists have bombarded Washington State Liquor Control Board with lawsuits and criticism of cronyism and corruption. So the Medical Cannabis activist community has not been making friends with the folks that are deciding our fate. And the Department of Revenue? You have to assume they just want their vig.
It is important to remember that these are recommendations. These recommendations and the thinly veiled contempt for medical cannabis is not the law. Yet. The sky is not falling. But a storm is coming. It looks gloomy but we have a chance to persuade our State legislators. It is time for us to stand together as a community. Please use this link to contact your legislator and tell them that we need sensible regulation. If anyone thinks that killing medical cannabis will save this recreational market, I believe we have more lessons on the horizon.