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Cannabis Wars Part 2: The Background, The Battle

Cannabis Wars 2015

A friend of mine asked if the term Cannabis Wars was a little melodramatic. It made me think about the discussions I have had over the last two weeks with the players in this grand social experiment we are undertaking. So, I answered “No, if you are a long time medical marijuana (MMJ) patient who ended up at the MMJ store (point of access—more on this) because the chemicals in the drugs you were taking were decaying your body, fuzzing your mind or causing your skin to peel, you would think the jeopardy of a rewrite of the law that brought you sanity and physical relief was in fact a personal war.”

And that is at the heart of what is in front of the legislature. In 2015 as in years past the legislature will attempt to clarify, perhaps on behalf of the patients, the state’s now almost 17 year-old MMJ law. And, once again wrestle with the question: Does the legislature, or key legislators actually, really believe that cannabis is medicine? Because any reform the MMJ law can be approached as a clean up to meld it with recreational cannabis use (RCU) law or a rewrite intended to maintain a functional and legitimate MMJ law.

The Beginning:

Meet George Soros, born August 12, 1930, as Schwartz György. A Jewish Hungarian billionaire who together with John Sperling and Peter Lewis essentially funded the campaign in our state for Initiative 692, a MMJ law. I-692 received 59% of the vote and carried every county except Lewis, Cowlitz, Klickitat, Garfield, Grant Lincoln, Stevens and Yakima. I-692 received three percentage points more than I-502, Washington’s recreational cannabis use law 14 years later.

Soros formed and supported many progressive-liberal causes and still is at 83 years. His net worth in 2014 was estimated at $27 billion. So in 1998, through their group, Americans for Medical Rights, and harboring strong progressive and personal liberty rights, Soros, Sperling and Lewis spent considerable money bringing, supporting and passing I-692 in Washington.

It Was A Simple Little Proposal:

The message was simple. Should, under certain circumstances, cannabis be allowed to be authorized by physicians (the term in the ballot title) , and “use(d)”. It was that simple. All the time the Federal law was, as it now and will be until Congress comes into the 21st Century. The actual ballot title and ballot summary are below:

Ballot Title
Shall the medical use of marijuana for certain terminal or debilitating conditions be permitted and physicians authorized to advise patients about medical use of marijuana?
Yes [ ]
No [ ]
Ballot Measure Summary
This measure would permit the medical use of marijuana by patients with certain terminal or debilitating conditions. Non-medical use of marijuana would still be prohibited. Physicians would be authorized to advise patients about the risks and benefits of the medical use of marijuana. Qualifying patients and their primary caregivers would be protected from prosecution if they possess marijuana solely for medical use by the patient. Certain additional restrictions and limitations are detailed in the measure.
Passage of I-692 allowed “authorized” patients to possess and use cannabis to remedy “Terminal or Debilitating Medical Condition(s).” Terminal or Debilitating Medical Condition is defined in the act as
(a) Cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other seizure disorder, or spasticity disorders; or
(b) Intractable pain, limited for the purpose of this chapter to mean pain unrelieved by standard medical treatments and medications; or
(c) Glaucoma, either acute or chronic, limited for the purpose of this chapter to meaning increased intraocular pressure unrelieved by standard treatments and medications; or
(d) Any other medical condition duly approved by the Washington
state medical quality assurance board as directed in this

In English? Sub (d) allows authorized use of cannabis for anything a qualifying medical professional chooses to “prescribe” to their patients.

In 2010, there was a failed attempt to put a recreational cannabis use initiative on the ballot in Washington. Sponsors did not get enough signatures. They were buoyed by The Washington Poll, a academic research poll organized by the University of Washington. They surveyed a random sample of 1252 registered Washington voters between May 3 and 23, 2010. Of those, 52% supported and 35% opposed “the removing of state civil and criminal penalties for possession or use of marijuana.”

And, finally in 2012, we passed I-502, Washington’s RCU law.

The Issues:

Since legislative and executive action in Washington State has been stalled, little has been done to address the issues of conflict and function of the two laws, MMJ and RCU.

In 2014 SB 5887 went as far as any document to address these issues. Outlined in a 2013 biennial budget proviso for the Washington Liquor Control Board (LCB), the legislature’s assignment to the LCB, in consultative with other involved agencies, was to report to the legislature the needed “fixes”. Although reported too late for series consideration in the short, election year session, the keel was laid, and 5887 was drafted. (This is from a Cannabis Wire post at the end of the 2013 session: House budget documents and draft language direct the Liquor Control Board, LCB, DOR and DOH to join with “stakeholders” to formulate “proposed legislation” addressing many of the issues raised in the study ordered by the Senate version. The House project will address taxation, processing, retail, age of users, and the authorization process for MMJ by healthcare professionals.

First, why change? If we add two parts Federal Department of Justice advisories, one part concern by legitimate cannabis patients about their “medicine”, two parts desires by legislators to actually acquire the anticipated revenues from RCU operations, and dreams of RCU businesses that MMJ operations won’t siphon off business and profits, we get a stew of interest for addressing the issues:

As we go into the 2015 session here, GENERALLY, is what the groups are talking about:

-MMJ patients need to have legitimate authorizations, issued by legitimate healthcare providers, and they should be renewed annually

-MMJ patients need the same quality control of their medicine as the RCU customers have; Is it clean?
-Should RCU and MMJ folks be allowed to grow-their-own (GTO)? And if so how much? RCU presently cannot grow their own. MMJ can.
-DOJ demands that cannabis be restricted from minors, kept inside the state, and strictly tracked
-How can citizens be allowed to GTO and then still expect tax revenues from retail sales?
-(The Big One) Should MMJ points of access (retail clinics) and RCU retail outlets be melded or remain separate?
-Local Government prohibitions: Should local governments be allowed to prohibit the will of the people with either the MMJ or RCU laws, and if they do shouldn’t they then be denied any revenue from the production, processing and retailing of cannabis?

As the above issues infer, there is a strong and in some cases substantial belief that a lot of cannabis is leaking to recreational users through a porous MMJ law via vague or bogus authorizations. This leaking bogus MMJ product is, bypassing many of the restrictions demanded by DOJ, and avoiding capture in the revenue stream of the state.

The Solution:

As of the time of this post there are at least two draft bills, and a third concept paper being shared with legislators. At the request of drafters, sponsors and lobbyists, bill drafts and fiscals notes for a new bills are not postable. But, a few lobbyists have referenced either the “Kohl-Welles” bill or a Senator Rivers “draft”. Our Cannabis Wars Part 3 post will detail the available proposed legislation.