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Originally published Thursday, March 25, 2010 at 4:12 PM

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Washington state's medical-marijuana law is too restrictive

Washington's medical-marijuana law is too restrictive. The state should allow dispensaries selling to physician-approved patients.

WASHINGTON'S medical-marijuana law was advertised as humane and tolerant in the 1990s, when this state legalized cannabis as medicine, along with California, Oregon, Alaska and Maine. Now most of the states in the West allow it — and Washington falls behind. Our law is unfairly restrictive.

In January, the Washington Supreme Court ruled in State v. Fry that our law offers medical users no protection from search, seizure and arrest. The court said the immunity is from penalty only. The medical-marijuana user, the court said, has still "committed a criminal act, but pleads an excuse for doing so."

This needs to be changed. People with a doctor's OK should be able to use marijuana without having their doors kicked in. They are patients, not criminals. This is the rule of tolerance Washington voters thought they were approving 12 years ago, and it has now become a civilized minimum.

Washington's law allows patients to grow marijuana for themselves or for one other person.

In 2008, the Department of Health stated in a report that "home cultivation is not feasible for all patients." That is clearly so. It is not reasonable to require every patient, or every other patient, to start and manage an indoor farm, but that is what the law effectively says.

It also forbids selling processed marijuana or live plants. The raid on cannabis entrepreneur Steve Sarich shows what happens when the law is so restrictive. Somebody just does it.

Sarich was apparently growing and selling small plants for $15 each. Police said he had 259 small plants started from cuttings, 80 medium plants and 36 large ones. The maximum allowed by the Department of Health is 15 plants.

The public question is not whether one man broke the rules, but what the rules should be.

Start with the idea in the Department of Health's report that "there needs to be a safe, legal source for qualified patients."

That means dispensaries — places where people with authorization can buy plants or processed marijuana, in lawful, above-board and taxed transactions. California allows dispensaries. Washington should, also.

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