Opinion editorial: Medical marijuana patients deserve a reliable system (Rep. Maureen Walsh)

For the Prosser Record-Bulletin and the Dayton Chronicle

By Rep. Maureen Walsh

In 1998, voters approved Initiative 692 to allow patients with terminal or debilitating conditions, such as cancer, HIV, chronic seizures, Crohn’s disease and others, to use marijuana for medical purposes. Since then, legislation has been sponsored to regulate the medical marijuana system. In 2011, the Legislature passed a bipartisan bill, which would have established a regulated system of licensed medical marijuana producers, processors and dispensaries, but it was partially vetoed by then-Governor Christine Gregoire.

Despite the 2012 passage of Initiative 502, which legalized the use of recreational marijuana purchased from Washington state licensed stores, medical marijuana patients have been left for years with no clear direction to legally navigate the medical marijuana system.

Currently, patients and recreational users are able to purchase up to one ounce of marijuana in licensed I-502 stores.

All of this uncertainty, in addition to the possibility of federal intervention, prompted the U.S. Senate to introduce the CARERS Act, which would reschedule marijuana as a Schedule II drug so it can be prescribed to patients.

Since the passage of I-502, we’ve seen reports of some businesses exploiting the ambiguities in the current system, from dodging certain licensing processes to selling tax-free medical marijuana to non-patients and minors. To prevent abuse, I believe we need a robust, regulated system for both medical and recreational marijuana users. Reform must take place while protecting patient access.

Three other states that have legalized marijuana – Colorado, Oregon and Alaska, as well as the District of Columbia – have enacted laws maintaining a 60-day marijuana supply for medical use with the option for anyone 21 or older to grow up to six plants for their own use. I would like to see similar legislation passed in Washington state.

Washington needs a practical solution that works for patients, health care providers, businesses, state agencies and the public at large. Patients need reliable access to medicine that has proven to help them cope with their debilitating illnesses.

The 2015 legislative session is scheduled to adjourn April 26 – roughly 30 days from now. I’m hopeful we will reach consensus on legislation the will provide more stability and certainty for patients.

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Rep. Maureen Walsh, R- Walla Walla, represents the 16th Legislative District and is the ranking member on the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee.