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August 26, 2008 -- Spokesman-Review (WA)

Medical Pot Limits Challenged

Patients Argue Against Proposal

By Richard Roesler, Staff writer

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

TUMWATER, Wash. -- Not enough.

That was the message from more than 100 patients and advocates who crowded a state hearing room Monday to decry proposed new limits on allowable amounts of medical marijuana.

"You're going to make every one of these people in this room a felon," Kirkland activist Steve Sarich told a four-person Department of Health panel.

The state's medical marijuana law limits patients to a 60-day supply, but doesn't define how much pot that is. Amid a tug-of-war between patients, advocates, police and prosecutors, state health officials for months have been trying to figure out what's a reasonable 60-day supply.

Their proposal, patterned on Oregon's law, would allow possession of:

* 24 ounces of processed marijuana, not including stems, seeds and roots;

* Six mature plants;

* 18 seedlings, each up to a foot tall.

Some patients object to the 24-ounce limit, saying it's not enough for patients who eat the drug in brownies, for example, or mix it into lotions to apply to aching limbs.

"It's unreasonable. They didn't even base it on any known science," said Ken Martin, a Cheney man who brought his son to Monday's hearing. A former nuclear plant worker, Martin said he's battling a brain tumor that causes throbbing headaches so severe that he vomits. Marijuana helps ease the agony and restore his appetite, he said.

"I smoke a quarter-ounce a day," said Sue Watson, a patient and director of Emerald Cross, a Seattle advocacy group. "That doesn't count what I put on my skin, the capsules I take, the tea I drink, the medicated foods I eat."

But the biggest sore spot with patients was the limit on plants. It's absurd to count any plant over a foot tall as a mature plant, they said. Many drew a comparison to corn, which is far from mature at that height. And even those who had extensive growing experience with hydroponics, high-pressure sodium lights and injected carbon dioxide said it is highly unlikely that anyone could get 24 ounces of usable marijuana from half a dozen plants.

Many also said that marijuana plants are subject to the same whims of nature that any vegetable gardener battles: insects, fungus, crop failures. Limiting someone to just six plants, they said, would make it hard to ensure a reliable supply.

"We're patients. We're not criminals," said Melissa Leggee, a Spokane woman who runs a company, CBR Medical Inc., that connects patients with marijuana-prescribing doctors. "We just want to be treated like patients and left alone."

Washington voters in 1998 passed Initiative 692, allowing patients with a prescription to raise a medical-marijuana defense if charged with breaking drug laws. But the state law has no effect on federal law, which continues to ban marijuana possession or use for any reason.

Some of those who testified Monday smelled strongly of marijuana. Advocates erected a closed-off smoking tent on the lawn outside the Department of Health office so people could smoke the drug during breaks from the hearing.

Some advocates were clearly concerned about the image their side was presenting to reporters and news cameras Monday.

Dale Rogers, director of Seattle's Compassion in Action marijuana clinic, stopped an interview in mid-sentence and turned to a fellow organizer shortly before the hearing started.

"Who's the guy who showed up in the bathrobe with the plastic bag over his head? Go deal with it, please," he said. "That's exactly what I didn't want."

The Olympia-area man, who was wearing a mask made from a disposable diaper, a purse, fingerless gloves and flip-flops, was acting erratically.

The Department of Health considered everything from 17 ounces to 71 ounces for the 60-day limit, according to spokesman Donn Moyer.

"After talking to everyone, including law enforcement and the medical community, 17 seemed like not enough," he said.

He said the agency's trying to hear from everyone and come up with a guideline that makes sense.

"We're not plant experts; we acknowledge that," Moyer said.

Under the proposal, doctors could prescribe more if they thought it was needed, although patients suggested that few doctors would go out of their way to do so.

An earlier idea to allow a 100-square foot "canopy" of marijuana plants per person was pared down to the plant limits discussed Monday, he said.

It would be hard for police in the field to judge crop canopy sizes, said Don Pierce, executive director of the state Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.

"It's 3:30 in the morning, it's dark and it's raining. Is this helpful?" he said.

Police want a standard that makes it easy to tell a legitimate patient from "someone who is hiding behind the medical marijuana law," he said. Searches have turned up large grow operations that did not seem justifiable for patient use, he said.

As for the ounce limit, Pierce said, police will be happy with it "as long as it's medically defensible."

"I don't know what number I would have picked," he said, "but then again, I don't know what the right dosage is for Lipitor, either."

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

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