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A Cheech and Chong ‘medical’ marijuana bill

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on Jan. 22, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
January 22, 2011 12:00 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It must have taken some doing, but advocates of “medical” marijuana have come up with a bill that would actually invite more abuse of the drug than straightforward legalization.

The “medical” belongs in quotation marks here, because the measure in Olympia would junk a key rule designed to prevent common drug seekers from getting marijuana on medical pretenses. And once recreational users or addicts got their pseudo-medical authorizations to use the drug, they’d enjoy more privileges than simple legalization would give them.

They’d be protected, for example, if ex-spouses objected to leaving children in their care; judges would not be permitted to consider marijuana use as a factor in custody arrangements except in extreme cases involving “long-term impairment” – whatever that means.

The bill would bring down the hammer of discrimination law on companies with anti-drug policies. Employers who refused to hire or employ marijuana users – the drug stays in the body long after use – could be investigated and sanctioned by the state Human Rights Commission.

That’s just scratching the surface of this amazing piece of legislation. It would also legalize large-scale commercial marijuana grow operations and wholesaling – no specified limits on quantity. Cities and counties would not be permitted to ban grow operations in their jurisdictions; the measure leaves all control over licensing to the state.

Growing, processing and selling could be conducted in secrecy. Call this one the Home-Buyer’s-Surprise Provision.

There’s more: Police officers would have to check state databases for medical marijuana licenses before responding on probable cause to “cannabis-related incidents” (also known, under federal law, as “crimes”).

Individual officers could be personally fined or sued for failure to do so. There’s no obvious reason this wouldn’t apply to, say, a cop who spots dope and money changing hands in a dark alley. Odd: The law doesn’t paint a legal bull’s-eye on officers for responding to “alcohol-related incidents.”

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, has been touted as a “clarification” of the legal status of the illegal marijuana dispensaries that Washington cities and counties – including Tacoma – have begun to tolerate.

The measure’s actual reach is far, far more sweeping; it amounts to legalization with privileges.

To legitimize the dispensaries, the logical first step would be to impose genuine medical-pharmaceutical rigor on the authorizations that allow people to acquire “medicinal” pot in the first place.

As things stand, a handful of clinics – often fly-by-night operations – do brief, assembly-line-style “exams” of marijuana seekers and churn out authorizations like factories. They rubber-stamp the documents – often for about $200 a pop – for users with nebulous complaints of “intractable pain.” These mills have been transforming who knows how many garden-variety marijuana smokers into “patients.”

The law permits little effective regulation, and no one has ever been sanctioned for over-authorizing marijuana. The lack of controls blurs the line between legitimate providers and money-hungry enablers.

Instead of tightening the process, Kohl-Welles’ bill would actually loosen it. Under the existing law – an initiative approved by the voters – marijuana is largely treated as a last resort to be used only when legal, conventional treatments and FDA-approved medications fail. Her measure would let it be used as a first resort.

With this in place, any drug abuser who didn’t get his get-out-of-jail-free card would deserve to be arrested for sheer stupidity.

Words fail. This bill could have been written by Cheech and Chong 30 tokes past midnight. Any lawmaker inclined to support it should make a point of reading it first.

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