Bills won't fix problems with medical marijuana

By the Herald editorial staff

Forgive the hackneyed phrase, but the good, the bad and the ugly almost fits the trio of marijuana bills that state lawmakers plan to introduce when the Legislature meets next month.

We say almost fits, because the best of the lot, Sen. Jerome Delvin's proposal to require medical marijuana patients to carry a state-issued identification card, isn't exactly good.

It's just not bad.

For police trying to determine whether someone caught with marijuana has a legitimate medical need, the cards could save time and trouble.

We're just worried that it's a solution in search of a problem. Inappropriate arrests don't seem to be a major problem, and it's not clear why a doctor's recommendation that medical users are already required to obtain isn't sufficient.

But other than the cost of the bureaucracy needed to manage the cards, there's no real downside to the plan.

The same isn't true for Rep. Larry Haler's bill.

The Richland Republican's concerns about drug use may be based on good intentions, but his proposal is bad.

Haler's bill wouldn't so much reform Washington's medical marijuana law as render it useless.

As it stands, the law does a poor job of meeting the needs of patients, despite a clear mandate from Washington voters.

Those suffering from a terminal or debilitating illness are allowed to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana with a written recommendation from a doctor.

But it's practically impossible to obtain the drug legally. Most people who need marijuana to ease their suffering resort to the same black market that supplies illicit drug users.

That's not what state voters had in mind when they overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana use more than a decade ago.

Unfortunately, Haler's plans threaten to make it even tougher on patients.

Under his bill, patients wouldn't be allowed to use a medical marijuana defense against narcotics charges if their drugs weren't produced in compliance with state and federal product safety laws.

Although it's not in the current version of the bill, Haler said his ultimate goal is to require patients to obtain marijuana through a prescription from a pharmacy.

The problem is no pharmacy is likely to risk the consequences of defying federal narcotic laws. Haler's plan would effectively eliminate any legal avenue for medical marijuana.

That's bad for victims of cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis, AIDS and chronic pain who find some relief from marijuana.

And the ugly?

Legislation introduced by Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson, D-Seattle, fits the bill. Her proposal would legalize marijuana and sell it in state liquor stores.

Dickerson's measure won't get a serious look in the Legislature, but it does threaten to marginalize the serious problem legitimate medical marijuana users face in getting the help they need.

Where the use of marijuana can ease human suffering, Washington residents have said they want it to be available. The state has failed to comply adequately with that directive.

Lawmakers ought to be working on ways to fulfill their obligation to meet the will of the people. The bills we've seen won't do it.