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Draw the line between legal pot and bogus medicine

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Jan. 21, 2012 at 4:44 pm |
January 20, 2012 4:50 pm

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Initiative 502 has given the Legislature a big fat opening to separate medical cannabis from the legalization of recreational marijuana.

I-502 proposes to authorize and regulate the use and sale of marijuana in Washington. It’s an initiative to the Legislature, which means that lawmakers have three options: They can adopt it as is, ignore it and let it go to the ballot, or come up with an alternative measure to put on the ballot alongside it.

The issue belongs to the voters, though legislators may well be able to improve on the initiative as written.

With the legalization option out in the open – and cleanly contained in its own bill – lawmakers ought to be able to craft a medical marijuana policy that doesn’t amount to sneaky, corrupt pseudo-legalization.

They could get two-thirds of the way there with one simple step: explicitly outlawing clinics and medical practices that do virtually nothing but hand out so-called green cards to almost anyone who walks in the door.

The proliferation of pot docs and retailers in this state over the last few years has made a mockery of the 1998 initiative that carefully authorized the therapeutic use of marijuana for the genuinely ill within a doctor-patient relationship.

The law forbade sales of the drug and restricted its use to suffering patients who couldn’t be helped by ordinary treatments.

Those restrictions remain in force but are routinely flouted. Potheads and partiers claiming “intractable pain” can easily find practitioners who will legalize their habits for $100 or $200 – often promising them the money back if they don’t get authorization papers. In Tacoma, the situation is such a sham that police say they’re running into gang members who’ve been “medically” authorized to smoke dope.

A new bill introduced by state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, purports to clarify the legal status of the marijuana stores. Actually, their legal status is already clear: They are illegal. But many of their operators have proved that they will ignore the law so long as there’s fast money to be made and local officials – the Tacoma City Council among them – willing to enable them.

Tinkering with definitions and labels won’t change that. What will is a crackdown on providers who write green cards for common drug-seekers. Shut off the flood of bogus authorizations, and the rest of the industry will automatically get cleaner – if poorer.

Some lawmakers proposed last year to outlaw operations that “primarily” authorized marijuana. The sneaky-legalization people amended that to “exclusively” – a term of art broad enough to cover someone who sells lava lamps on the side. Getting “primarily” into law would fix some of what’s broken with medical marijuana in this state.

Outright legalization is a separate discussion with a different set of issues; it’s not quackery and it doesn’t use sick people as camouflage for recreational or compulsive users.

There are respectable libertarian arguments for legalization. Let those honest arguments ride on I-502, and yank the dishonesty off the back of medical marijuana.

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