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July 8, 2008 -- The Olympian (WA)

Center In Olympia To Educate On Medicinal Marijuana Law

Advocate Aims to Clarify System for Legal Users

By Christian Hill

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

An Olympia man will open a resource center outside Olympia next month for patients who use medical marijuana and for those who want to learn more about the medicinal use of cannabis.

Jeremy Miller, 36, said he wants to help people navigate through the state's medical marijuana law that remains complex despite an effort last week by the state Department of Health to bring more clarity.

The opening of the resource center was "semi-inspired" by the agency's action and resulting need to educate people.

"It's a legitimate law just like any law that should be functional and, right now, it's not as functional as it should be," Miller said. "There's several things we can do, but I think it's going to take independent counties throughout the state and possibly independent organizations to take it upon themselves to keep patients out of harm's way."

The Olympia Patient Resource Center will provide its members referrals to doctors and lawyers, equipment to grow and use marijuana, classes to cultivate the plants and a social setting for the legal use of the drug. It will not grow medical marijuana for patients.

Membership Cards

Miller said he will request that local governments and law enforcements agencies recognize the center's membership cards as legal verification for the holder to use medical marijuana.

The cards eventually will have security features so they can't easily be forged. He said he's made contacts with the county commissioners and will make presentations to them and the Olympia City Council soon.

Miller, the founder of Olympia Hempfest in 2003 and a strong local voice for legalizing marijuana, is blind in one eye after being shot with a pellet gun and has a doctor's authority to use marijuana to treat debilitating headaches.

Miller said the proposed rule by the state Department of Health defining a 60-day supply is reasonable if the limits on immature plants were removed. That inclusion means patients easily could run into trouble if they got sick and weren't able to care for their plants for a short period of time.

"It's not right that we make illegal patients out of legal patients," he said.

The proposed rule allows a patient or designated provider to possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana and places limits on the number of mature and immature plants they can own.

Feedback to the proposal has been mixed. Law enforcement wants a lower quantity -- but are satisfied they soon will have a number to enforce -- and patients and their advocates seek a higher quantity, agency spokesman Donn Moyer said.

The proposed rule was based on other state laws and scientific research, Moyer said.

"No one has the answer," he said. "We're trying to come up with what works best in Washington."

The state Department of Health had proposed defining a 60-day supply as up to 35 ounces of marijuana, but the proposal was shelved after Gov. Chris Gregoire asked the agency to solicit comments from law enforcement and prosecutors -- stakeholders she felt were under-represented in an earlier public process.

Lt. Loreli Thompson, commander of the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force, said it focuses on mid-to high-volume drug offenses and only might run across a medical marijuana case a few times a year.

There are cases pending in Superior Court involving individuals charged with marijuana possession who say their use is for medicinal purposes and therefore legal.

Thompson said she learned about the resource center Monday and didn't have sufficient information to specifically comment on its operation.

She did say, "If people are going to use medical marijuana, they need to follow the law. That way, they don't run into people reporting them or us knocking on their door."

Medical Marijuana Law

In 1998, voters authorized the use of marijuana to treat certain debilitating or terminal illnesses with a doctor's authorization. Last year, state lawmakers added several qualifying illnesses and to require the state Department of Health to define what constitutes a 60-day supply to bring more clarity to the law for patients, doctors, prosecutors and law enforcement.

On July 1, the agency proposed a rule authorizing a patient or designated provider to possess up to 24 ounces of marijuana -- and no more than six mature plants and 18 immature plants. An immature plant is no more than 12 inches in height and diameter and has no flowers.

The quantities can be adjusted with "documentation from a patient's physician stating the amount that is medically necessary," according to the proposal.

A public hearing is scheduled for Aug. 25 in Tumwater. Those comments will be taken into account before a rule is finalized, agency spokesman Donn Moyer said.

The hearing is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. in Room 152/153 at the state Department of Health, 310 Israel Road S.E.

The Olympia Patient Resource Center, 6303 Rich Road S.E. Unit G, is scheduled to open the first week in August. Hours are noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays; appointments are required. Call 360-456-3517. The annual membership cost is $25.

Also visit our "WA State News & Activism" section.

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