After being roundly chastised by more than a hundred medical marijuana patients and activists at an angry Monday meeting, the Washington state Health Department has extended the deadline for comments on its proposed medical marijuana quantity limits until 5:00pm PDT today. Assistant Health Secretary Karen Jensen made the announcement at the end of the meeting in Tumwater.
Washington voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 1998 that allowed patients to have a 60-day supply, but just what that constituted has never been specified. Last year, the legislature passed a measure directing the Health Department to spell out acceptable amounts.
In an earlier draft proposal, the Health Department suggested allowing patients 35 ounces of marijuana and a 100-square foot growing space. But after criticism from Gov. Christine Gregoire (D), whose office argued that the original draft was too generous and had not had sufficient input from law enforcement and doctors, the department came back with a more restrictive proposal: 24 ounces of marijuana, six mature plants, and 18 seedlings.
At the Tumwater meeting, patients, doctors, and activists harshly criticized the new draft as unfair, unrealistic, and unduly influenced by law enforcement. "We're not criminals. We're patients," said Melissa Leggee of Spokane in remarks reported by the Seattle Times. "We just want to be left alone to do what we need to do to survive."
"You're going to make everyone in this room a felon," if the proposed limit is adopted, Steve Sarich, of Kirkland, told the panel of Health Department officials. Sarich is director of CannaCare, which provides legal assistance and starter plants to patients.
Dr. Karen Hamilton, of Redmond, who has treated patients helped by marijuana, said the proposal would "effectively take treatment out of the doctors' hands," adding that there is no "one-size-fits-all" appropriate marijuana dose.
And speaker after speaker told the panel that six plants could not provide the amount of marijuana most patients need to alleviate their pain, nausea, and other symptoms of the more than a dozen diseases the drug can be used to treat. If patients cannot provide for themselves, they said, they will have to turn to the black market.
Gregoire's interference in the drafting process prompted Troy Williams of Clark County to urge the Health Department to stand up to the governor and protect the rights of patients. Department officials should "stand up, have some courage, and tell the governor to shove it," he said.
Assistant Secretary Jensen said that once the comments period ends today, the agency will take about a month to evaluate them and adopt a quantities rule. If substantial changes are made to the current draft, she said, a new round of comments will follow. Substantial changes are precisely what patients and their advocates want to see.