It’s funny how the medical marijuana debate has raged on for years and years now, and yet still has not been settled. You would think that with all the time that both the federal and state governments have put into the issue that it would finally be resolved by now. Instead, all we get from our elected leaders is an endless parade of seesawing public policy that only serves to confuse the public rather than help it. We saw this last year with the defeat of Prop 19 in California, and now Washington is jumping in as the latest state to do an about face on its medical marijuana laws.
You might’ve had a tough time finding this story amidst all the celebratory news reports about professional jerk Osama Bin Laden finally being popped in the head, but it’s a report worth scouring the middle pages of your local newspaper for. Washington’s governor, Gov. Chris Gregoire, recently vetoed SB 5073. The bill, which was passed by Washington’s House of Representative last month, would have established a regulatory system for the control, licensing, and taxation of medical marijuana dispensaries and growers. SB 5073 would have effectively made the sale and distribution of medical marijuana by way of dispensaries legal and was estimated to bring in over $6 million in revenue for the state by 2017. It would have also served as the perfect and, not to mention, necessary compliment to a Washington law approved by voters in 1998 that made it legal for patients to use cannabis for medicinal purposes.
Why do I categorize SB 5073 as necessary in this case? Well, because without it how is a patient supposed to be able to buy marijuana legally? Quite the paradox it would seem to everyone but Gov. Gregoire, who in only a few short moments was able to do away with over 12 years of established Washington policy on the legal status of medical marijuana.
With the bill being vetoed, dispensaries across the state of Washington have once again been flung back onto police radars. These businesses now exist straddling the line between being a legal and/or illegal operation, and critics acknowledge that they’ll likely become the target of prosecution from both federal and state officials.
The worst part about all of this, however, is that the status of medicinal marijuana’s legality has also been thrown back into flux. As mentioned earlier, Gov. Gregoire veto effectively creates a paradox for medical marijuana patients who are authorized to use cannabis, but now cannot buy it without risking prosecution against both them and the dispensary that sells it to them. What’s the point of having a law that lets you do something if at the same time it also strips the means to do it? That’s like if the government required everyone to have car insurance, but banned insurance from being sold in the state. Sure, you’d probably still be able to find someone to sell you insurance since everyone needs it, but getting it would be such a hassle that you’d probably want to just opt to bike to work instead.
And that, it would seem, appears to be the point behind much of this oxymoronic law-making. The Washington government in this case likely just doesn’t want to legalize nor likes the idea of people smoking pot within its borders, medical or otherwise. It doesn’t matter that the state’s own citizens voted to legalize medical cannabis. Nope, no one is getting high on Gov. Gregoire’s watch.
However, though the idea of government circumventing the will of the people isn’t necessarily a notion that sits well with me, it’s not what truly bothers me about the whole marijuana debate both in Washington and around the country. What is most troubling about this situation is its lack of stability and consistency. Certainly the issue of marijuana is a touchy subject, but what I can’t understand is why can’t these state governments simply decide one way or the other whether to legalize or criminalize the substance? By constantly flip-flopping back and forth and creating inconsistent legislation, all that is accomplished is confusion. Dispensaries operation in a constant state of fear that they’ll be shut down and/or jailed and patients are left wondering whether the cannabis they’ve come to rely on will still be available the next time they need a refill.
Rather than persisting to continue this unstable pattern, local legislators should simply end the debate and pick a side. It’s not that hard, we did it with alcohol and the world didn’t end. And though I’m aware that progress and changes in public attitude typically don’t come in clear cut endings and beginnings, in the case of medicinal marijuana, this evolutionary model of growth just isn’t working because too many people are being harmed while our leaders are squabbling.
Sometimes the simplest way to resolve a debate is to just pick a side and stop. This may sound like a pretty radical idea, but in the case of medical marijuana I think it’s a prudent one.