Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist
Consensus on medical marijuana? Don't hold your breath
Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey replays the legislative debates in Olympia on the medical-marijuana bill.
Seattle Times editorial columnist
Legislative debate for a bill to legalize growers and dispensers of medical marijuana was all over the board. The bill now awaits the governor's signature.
Some were scoffers. One was Jim McCune, R-Graham, who declared to the House of Representatives that cannabis is "more cancer-causing than cigarettes," and that it "stinks more." McCune is from the fish business.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, and a farmer, called it "crap" and said his mother, who has cancer, "didn't need" it.
Rep. Eileen Cody, D-Seattle, and a nurse, defended it. "This is the best relief of spasticity we can get," she said.
Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, another nurse, said, "I wish it had been available for my sister."
Initiative 692, passed in 1998, let patients use marijuana but authorized no way for them to get it. The dispensaries, long underground, now operate openly. They even have a trade group, the Washington Cannabis Association.
Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley and yet another nurse, held up a copy of The Stranger, which she said had 15 medical-cannabis ads.
"It is out there everywhere," she said, arguing that dispensaries should be regulated. She voted yes on the bill.
Several opponents argued that providing cannabis for state-approved patients would corrupt the young.
Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, who comes from the caffeinated-drinks industry, said, "We care more about whether a girl or young woman wears a bikini in a coffee stand than whether someone can sell marijuana, weed, pot, next to a school or a family day-care center."
His fellow Spokane Republican, Rep. Matt Shea, objected to a dispensary being 50 feet from "a family day care."
Here is an issue that sounds important until you think about it. Seattle has a dispensary across a street from a church with a day care. There hasn't been any trouble for kids or families. Why would there be?
Rep. Barbara Bailey, R-Oak Harbor, offered an amendment that all marijuana cultivation be done by the Department of Agriculture. This proposal for cannabis socialism was voted down, mostly by Democrats. Bailey then said she was "an extremely compassionate" person in regard to people about to die, but that it was a bad bill. She voted no.
Then, the federal issue.
Rep. Bill Hinkle, R-Cle Elum, said the right way to allow medical cannabis was for federal authorities to remove marijuana from the prohibited list and allow it in pharmacies. He voted no.
Another no vote was by Sen. Paull Shin, D-Mukilteo, who recalled that at his naturalization he swore to defend the Constitution. "If the federal government says no, it applies to all of the United States," he said.
The 10th Amendment, however, says that the powers not given to the federal government "are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." Does the federal government have power over marijuana within a state? The Supreme Court ruled in Gonzales v. Raich (2005) that it has, citing a 1942 case that allowed the government to control farmers. But though this means federal tolerance is not required legally, still it can be made to happen politically.
Sen. Jerome Delvin, R-Richland, and a former policeman, pointed the way. "We can set our own policy of what we want to do in our state," he said, "and tell the feds to butt out."
Could it stick? Maybe — if the governor lets the bill become law.
Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org