- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2007

SEATTLE (AP) — Sober public servants will convene meetings this fall across Washington state to answer a pressing question: How much marijuana constitutes a two-month supply?

What may seem like an odd question for straight-laced government types to tackle is a serious attempt to shore up the state’s medical marijuana law, which passed in 1998 but does not define the 60-day supply patients are allowed to have on hand.

Now, after years of attempts to amend the law, the state Health Department has been ordered to spell out how much marijuana makes up that theoretical two-month cache.

Prosecutors and police generally support the change, saying it should help officers determine whom to arrest and whom to leave alone.

But some patients wish the state wouldn’t bother; they worry the government will make the limits too restrictive and prompt more arrests of people in frail health.

If the law is going to be changed, dissenters would rather see stronger protection from arrest or an allowance for group-growing operations. Defining the 60-day supply, they say, is a do-nothing compromise aimed mostly at pleasing law enforcement.

“Once again, politics have trumped patients’ rights. Once again, politics have trumped science,” said Dale Rogers, head of Seattle’s Compassion in Action Patient Network, which distributes medical marijuana.

Washington’s medical marijuana law was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters in 1998, following closely behind California in the first wave of such measures nationwide.

Under the law, doctors are allowed to recommend marijuana for people with “intractable pain” and several serious diseases, including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

Marijuana patients can be prosecuted but may avoid conviction by proving a legitimate medical need. As is the case anywhere in the country, nothing in state statute shields a patient from prosecution under federal law, which does not recognize medical uses for marijuana.

Unlike the 11 other laws that protect medical marijuana users from a state criminal conviction, Washington has never set a specific limit for the amount of marijuana each patient is allowed to have.

In Oregon, patients are allowed up to 24 ounces of marijuana and two dozen plants at different stages of growth. New Mexico, the latest state to pass a medical marijuana law, plans to allow up to 6 ounces of marijuana, four mature plants and three immature seedlings.

“Law-enforcement officers in the field were put in the position of throwing their hands up in the air and saying, ‘We’ll let the judge and the jury sort that out,’ ” said Alison Holcomb, director of the state American Civil Liberties Union Marijuana Education Project.

Douglas Hiatt, a defense lawyer who specializes in medical marijuana cases, and others who will lobby health regulators this fall will cite a marijuana dosing study led by Dr. Gregory Carte, a University of Washington rehabilitation-medicine specialist.

Following the study’s guidelines, Mr. Hiatt said, patients should be allowed anywhere from a half-pound to 23/4 pounds of marijuana in two months. If the Health Department goes drastically lower, he said a lawsuit could follow.