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March 15, 2007 - Spokesman-Review (WA)

Senate OKs Revamping Medical Marijuana Rules

By Richard Roesler, Spokesman-Review staff writer (Note: The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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OLYMPIA - Weeks after a grower startled lawmakers by unveiling half a dozen pot seedlings in the middle of a legislative hearing, the Senate approved a bill Wednesday revamping the rules on medical marijuana.

"This bill will provide some needed clarifications" to police, patients, physicians and growers, said Sen. Jean Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

"It was clear from the hearing that there are some abuses that are taking place as a result of the initiative," said Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley.

The bill helps "deal with those who are poised to take advantage of a gray area," she said.

Under 1998's Initiative 692, terminally or seriously ill patients can use marijuana, if a doctor thinks it will help. At legislative hearings, patients testified that smoking or eating pot helped quell chemotherapy nausea, ease pain and spur hunger at a time when patients were dangerously thin.

One longtime advocate is Sen. Bob McCaslin, R-Spokane Valley.

He said it's hypocritical for the federal government to have subsidized tobacco for years, for the state to be selling liquor "and we're concerned about a dying patient or one with a debilitating disease smoking marijuana."

"I believe anyone dying is entitled to anything, whether it's legal or illegal," McCaslin told his fellow lawmakers Wednesday.

"I watched my wife die over a period of eight years with cancer, and many of you watched your loved ones die. In my opinion, they're entitled to anything they want."

Senate Bill 6032 is an attempt to more clearly spell out the role of physicians, clarify who can grow and process the marijuana and what law enforcement can do to ensure that a person is a legitimate medical marijuana patient.

One thing it doesn't and can't do, however, is repeal the fact that the federal government ignores state laws recognizing medical marijuana. At hearings, several of the patients who testified had been raided by federally-funded drug task forces.

The U.S. Supreme Court said in 2005 that medical marijuana users can be prosecuted for breaking federal laws even if they live in a state where the drug is legal with a doctor's approval.

On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against a California woman whose doctor said that marijuana is the only drug keeping her alive.

"The Senate is dancing along an extremely fine line here," said Pflug.

The bill does address a longstanding question about the initiative. I-692 allowed patients a 60-day supply of the drug.

The problem is that nobody's figured out how much marijuana that is.

The Senate bill directs state health officials to set the limit. But it also sets up a way for patients to challenge the limit if their own medical needs require more.

The bill passed 39 to 10 and now goes to the House of Representatives.

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