Activist: Marijuana Patients Still Unprotected By Law In Washington

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Photo: Seattle Hempfest
Vivian McPeak: “Patients and providers have already shown we are evenhanded and responsible. Now all we want is to be protected by law.”

​Marijuana activist Vivian McPeak, founder of Seattle Hempfest, has said that patients in the state of Washington are still unprotected by the state’s medical cannabis law, approved by voters in 1998.

“The law does not protect legal patients from home invasion and arrest by police,” McPeak wrote in a letter to the editor published in the March 30 edition of The Seattle Times.
“Flaws in the law make medical marijuana producers criminals,” McPeak said. “If the grower reports theft to police, that grower often gets treated as a criminal.”

McPeak notes that California’s current high-profile marijuana legalization ballot initiative was funded by a medical marijuana millionaire from Oakland.
“There are no Washington state medical marijuana millionaires,” McPeak said. “Our medical marijuana community is neither high-profile nor focused on huge profits.”
“Other than a few recent newsworthy incidents of violence, there has been very little controversy surrounding our state’s medical marijuana during all these years of operation,” McPeak said.
“Patients and providers have already shown we are evenhanded and responsible,” McPeak said. “Now all we want is to be protected by law. That’s what Washington voters wanted in 1998, and 12 years later, it just isn’t so.”

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Artwork: Jimmy Wheeler
The late Jimmy Wheeler, a medical marijuana patient in Washington, created this artwork.

McPeak Is Right
In the state of Washington, medical marijuana isn’t treated as “legal,” even though the voters clearly expressed their will in 1998.
According to a recent Washington Supreme Court decision, police can get a search warrant, enter and search your home, arrest you, handcuff you and take you to jail, every time they smell pot — even if you are a legal patient carefully abiding by the rules put forth by the state.
And heaven forbid you should actually call the police if someone breaks into your home trying to steal your medical marijuana. Steve Sarich could tell you all about that.
If that seems a little crazy to you, you’re not the only one.
When you consider that Washington’s medical marijuana law — one of the strictest in the nation, when it comes to “qualifying conditions” — requires that patients have a “terminal or debilitating illness” in order to be eligible, this isn’t just a crazy scenario.
It’s downright cruel.
In a state with severe budget difficulties – so bad that Gov. Christine Gregoire has been forced to slash budgets, shut down state parks, and discontinue programs designed to help the homeless – we are told that it’s perfectly OK and perfectly legal for police officers to spend public resources repeatedly searching, harassing, and arresting sick and dying legal medical marijuana patients.
In what universe does this make sense? The one where ivory-tower supreme court justices are fluent in legalese, but maybe not so adept at interpreting plain English, and sussing out the will of the voters when they passed this law in 1998.
In an extremely narrow and legalistic interpretation of Washington’s medical marijuana law, the state Supreme Court said the law provides only an “affirmative defense” in court, and gives no protection at all from arrest, from search, and, let’s face it – in some rural counties, from infinite harassment.
Unfortunately, many law enforcement authorities, especially in rural Washington, just aren’t comfortable with marijuana, medical or not. They aren’t happy that pot was legalized for medical purposes, and they are suspicious of anyone who’d have anything to do with it.
Some police officers see the Supreme Court decision as a green light. Now they can, to their hearts’ content, harass medical marijuana patients endlessly. If, motivated by intolerance, revenge, you name it, they decide to arrest the same patient, over and over, because his or her home smells like marijuana? They get to do that, as many times as they’d like – with no legal repercussions.
Yes, it’s been 12 years since Washingtonians voted to legalize medical marijuana. For more than a decade, the people of Washington have mistakenly believed that protecting seriously ill medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail was a done deal.
That would be nice if it were true. But right now, instead of directing our dwindling energies on healing or at least being comfortable, every medical marijuana patient in Washington has to worry about being arrested.
For those of us on the front lines, fearing arrest at every moment, medical marijuana still feels like a battle we have yet to win.
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