About two dozen people rallied on the Washington state capitol steps on Tuesday, calling on Governor Christine Gregoire to approve a law licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and providing arrest protection for patients.
Controversy has erupted over the bill, already approved by both houses of the Legislature, since Gov. Gregoire threatened last week to veto it, claiming it could expose state workers to federal prosecution. State workers have never been prosecuted for licensing medical marijuana operations in any of the 15 states where medicinal cannabis is legal.
Protesters on Tuesday said if the governor vetoes SB 5073, it would show she is disrespecting the 1998 voter initiative that legalized medical marijuana in Washington, and that she is abandoning patients who rely on it, reports Katie Schmidt at The Tacoma News Tribune.
“We’re in the early stages of making some noises to try to get the governor to change her position,” said Phillip Dawdy, spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association.
SB 5073 would provide long-awaited arrest protection for medical marijuana patients in Washington and would set up a process for dispensaries to be licensed by the state. It is meant to clarify a gray area of the state’s original medical marijuana law, which allows patients to use medicinal cannabis, but provides them no clear, legal path to obtain it.
|Photo: Courtney Blethen Riffkin/The Seattle Times|
|Laura Healy: “This bill is something we need.It gives people a safe place to get our medicine”|
Both the patient protection and the dispensary licensing portions of the bill are important, according to Laura Healy, a Shoreline resident who was among the protesters on Tuesday.
“This bill is something that we need,” Healy said. “It gives people a safe place to get our medicine.”
Gov. Gregoire claimed her decision to veto the bill came in response to a blustering letter she received Thursday from two U.S. attorneys in Washington state who claim the proposal goes “too far.”
The threatening letter from the two headline-hungry butt-insky U.S. attorneys, Jenny Durkan and Michael Ormsby, flies in the face of the Obama Administration’s stated policy for the past two years that it would not be going after medical marijuana patients and providers in states where medicinal cannabis is legal.
The federal Controlled Substances Act forbids marijuana for any purpose, and it is considered a Schedule I drug with no accepted uses under federal law. But the Obama Justice Department in 2009 released a memo saying it would not prioritize medical marijuana prosecutions of those who follow state law.
But in their heavy-handed letter to Gov. Gregoire, Ormsby and Durkan said the part of SB 5073 that would offer state licensing to marijuana dispensaries could open state officials up to federal prosecutions.
“We maintain the authority the enforce the CSA vigorously against individuals and organizations that participate in unlawful manufacturing and distribution activity involving marijuana, even if such activities are permitted under state law,” they wrote last week, in direct contradiction to the 2009 DOJ memo.
Advocates have pointed out that six other states plus Washington D.C. licensed medical marijuana dispensaries, and the Justice Department has not prosecuted anyone for violating federal drug laws in any of those states, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.