Eastern Washington residents will get to weigh in on how much medical marijuana constitutes a two-month supply during a public meeting planned Tuesday in Spokane.
The meeting is the second of four statewide sessions convened by the Department of Health, which was ordered by state lawmakers to define the amount allowed by Washington’s nearly decade-old medical marijuana law.
Dozens of users, advocates and health professionals are expected to show up at the session planned for the student center at Spokane Community College. At stake is exactly how much marijuana should be permissible for people who use the substance to ease pain, nausea and other symptoms of numerous diseases, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Estimates vary widely, said Blake Maresh, the department of health administrator tapped to lead the public workshops and the rule-making process.
“That’s why we’re holding the sessions, to find out, ‘What do people who are using medical marijuana think?’ ” said Maresh, who added that a couple hundred people have signed on to an e-mail list that provides information about the process.
“We’ve heard from people who say 1 pound to 2 pounds and people who say, ‘I only use 4 ounces a week,’ ” he said.
Defining the two-month supply allowed by law will help police uncertainty about arrests. But it could also put difficult restrictions on authorized patients, said Darren McCrea of SpoCannabis, a Spokane medical marijuana advocacy group.
“A lot of people can’t grow indoors,” said McCrea. “They can only grow outdoors. So you have one season to grow all your medicine for the year.”
The new definition is due by July 1, 2008. Health officials also were asked to report on safe and effective methods of distributing medical marijuana, Maresh said.
McCrea, 39, who uses medical marijuana to relieve seizures and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, said he worries that that could put too-strict limits on the number of plants a person could possess, and also on the number of patients one care provider could help.
In many ways, the gray area in the law helped ensure that patients could get and keep all the marijuana they needed.
No one knows how many people are authorized to use pot under Washington’s medical marijuana law, which was approved in 1998 by nearly 60 percent of voters. Unlike other states, Washington issues no identification card and requires no registry, Maresh said.
McCrea said he helps authorize about 100 people every month through SpoCannabis.
Users may still be arrested and prosecuted for possession of marijuana, but they may avoid conviction by proving medical need. Laws in Washington and 11 other states do not protect users from prosecution under federal law, which does not recognize medical uses for marijuana.
Maresh said health officials could have a difficult time defining a user’s two-month supply. Illnesses, patients, even the potency of marijuana can vary considerably, he noted.
“We have our work cut out for us,” he said.