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Monday, August 25, 2008 - Page updated at 07:00 PM

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Wash. medical pot patients protest caps on supply

The state should allow medical marijuana users to grow and keep more pot for themselves than proposed rules envision, or sick people may turn to street dealers for their voter-approved medicine, a crowd of patients told the state Health Department on Monday.

Associated Press Writer

OLYMPIA, Wash. —

The state should allow medical marijuana users to grow and keep more pot for themselves than proposed rules envision, or sick people may turn to street dealers for their voter-approved medicine, a crowd of patients told the state Health Department on Monday.

The hearing was part of the Health Department's ongoing work of defining how much marijuana constitutes a legal two-month supply for patients under Washington's medical marijuana law.

Right now, the state is suggesting a limit that mirrors Oregon's: 24 ounces of usable pot, along with six mature plants and 18 immature plants. But activists and patients said those limits are not realistic for many people who consume pot to soothe a litany of symptoms, including lost appetite, severe nausea and chronic pain.

It was a lively hearing, marked by passionate speeches and applause from a crowd of more than 100.

Some used wheelchairs, canes and service dogs for assistance, and they wore everything from business suits to multicolored faux pot-leaf necklaces. Patients even set up a small blue privacy tent on the lawn outside - signs warned non-patients to stay out - that gave off the scent of burning marijuana.

At the hearing, medical marijuana advocates pointed out that not everyone smokes the pot - some eat it, using marijuana-infused butter or other recipes, requiring a much larger amount to get the desired effects.

Others, like Melissa Leggee of Spokane, told officials the proposed plant limit also is unworkable, because a total of 24 plants at various growth stages wouldn't be enough to generate the proposed 1.5 pounds of usable pot.

If the state-endorsed limits won't yield enough marijuana for patients, "Who do they go to? Do they take a chance buying from someone off the street?" Leggee asked. "We're not criminals. We're patients."

Health Department officials stressed they're not finished determining how much marijuana constitutes a 60-day supply under Washington law.

"It's a very difficult issue with not a lot of agreement in Washington or around the country," Health Department spokesman Tim Church said. "We did the best we could with the research we could find, along with public testimony and other outreach we did, to come up with a draft rule that we felt would work."

Washington's medical marijuana law was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters in 1998, close behind California in the first wave of similar measures around the country.

Federal law does not recognize a legal medical use for marijuana. But under Washington's law, doctors are allowed to recommend marijuana for people suffering from "intractable pain" and some serious diseases, including cancer, AIDS and multiple sclerosis.

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Marijuana patients still can be arrested and prosecuted, but may avoid conviction in state courts by proving a legitimate medical need.

In the decade since the law was passed, its allowance for a 60-day supply of marijuana has gone undefined. That has generated headaches for law enforcement, and for some patients, because there wasn't a clear guideline for how much pot was allowed and what was out of bounds.

The 2007 Legislature ordered the Health Department to come up with specific limits in hopes of clearing up that lingering gray area. The limits were supposed to be in place by July 1, but the sometimes contentious process has dragged the decision out much longer.

Earlier this year, after gathering volumes of comment from people around the state, the agency was poised to recommend 35 ounces of pot and 100 square feet of growing area.

But after reviewing health officials' work in February, Gov. Chris Gregoire thought the amount was too large and told the agency to get more opinions from law enforcement officials, doctors and others.

That ended with lower limits following the Oregon model, a change that has upset activists and patients.

"You did a wonderful job, you really did," patient Ric Smith told Health Department officials Monday. "But caving to Gov. Gregoire's pressure wasn't wise."

Some have threatened lawsuits, and on Monday, one was revealed. Activist Steve Sarich said the suit, filed in Thurston County Superior Court, seeks to change the way marijuana is classified under the state's controlled substances law.

---

On the Net:

Health Department: http://www.doh.wa.gov/hsqa/medical-marijuana/

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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