|Photo: Cannabis Fantastic|
In a sure sign of the growing public acceptance of the medical marijuana industry in Washington State, two dozen members of the community have joined forces to create the Washington Cannabis Association.
The new trade group said in a statement that it “intends to be an active participant in shaping forthcoming legislation to reform Washington State’s medical cannabis law […] and to give the industry a public face as it seeks to provide safe, consistent access to medicine for qualifying legitimate medical patients in Washington State.”
“The medical cannabis industry has matured dramatically over the past year, and our new Washington Cannabis Association is proof,” said Philip Dawdy, WCA’s media director.
“The WCA is putting all of its resources into fixing our state’s vague laws governing how patients can get their medicine,” Dawdy said. “Patients are better served and our communities are safer when there are regulated and licensed operations which monitor quality and adherence to state laws while serving patients.”
Under current state law, authorized patients and their providers are still regularly arrested and prosecuted, even when they are complying with the rules. This situation has arisen from different law enforcement jurisdictions interpreting the law differently.
For instance, in King County, home of Seattle, a medical marijuana dispensary scene flourishes openly and the prosecutor looks the other way. But travel straight across Puget Sound by ferry, and you’re in Kitsap County, where law enforcement authorities have vowed to arrest anyone who opens a dispensary.
The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department has even harassed and prosecuted individual patients who were simply trying to grow their own supply.
|Photo: Progressive Voters Guide|
|State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is working on clarifying Washington’s medical marijuana law|
After reviewing initial drafts of proposed legislation from state Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Queen Anne) that would clarify Washington’s medical marijuana law, activists, medical cannabis business owners and supporters realized they were a new political force and should be at the forefront of creating effective regulations for a legitimate medical cannabis industry in the state.
The association was born in October and immediately began working with Sen. Kohl-Welles to hammer out detailed regulations ensuring safe access for patients while clarifying state law for law enforcement.
“Jeanne has been working on these issues for over a decade,” said veteran business lobbyist Ezra Eickmeyer, WCA’s political director. “But she has never had direct lobbying support from a legitimate industry, because there wasn’t one before.”
“Other organizations have also hired professional lobbyists and we now have a collectively stronger voice for improving safe and reliable access to medical cannabis for patients,” Eickmeyer said. “We hope for bipartisan support for our efforts in 2011.”
Association members include medical marijuana cooperative operators, dispensary owners, medical cannabis producers, infused products manufacturers, and patients. Collectively, the organization said it represents about one-half of the estimated 100,000 authorized medical cannabis patients in Washington. More members are joining the association each week, according to Dawdy.
Anyone can join the WCA for $100, but full membership is $5,000 per year, reports Gene Johnson of The Associated Press.
“We want the public to know that the Washington Cannabis Association does not favor California-style dispensaries in an unregulated market,” said Laura Healy, owner of Green Hope Patient Network in Shoreline. “The association much prefers a limited and clearly regulated free market industry for production and distribution along the lines of recent regulations enacted in Colorado.”
“We need to keep medical cannabis away from the black market for the safety and patients and our communities,” Healy said.
Calls for the Washington Legislature to fix medical cannabis laws have been coming from local jurisdictions and patients alike, according to the WCA.
In October, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland the the Tacoma City council, weary of legal uncertainty about medical marijuana dispensaries, issued a public plea for the Legislature to fix the medical marijuana law and give clarity to law enforcement and local jurisdictions.
Calls to officially legalize dispensaries have come from the City of Seattle, according to the WCA.