09/11/16 Alison Bigelow

This week we learn about the state of medical marijuana in Washington state post-502, featuring patient advocate Alison Bigelow and former state legislator Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

Century of Lies
Sunday, September 11, 2016
Alison Bigelow
Patient Advocate
Download: Audio icon col091116.mp3



SEPTEMBER 11, 2016


DEAN BECKER: The failure of drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for for decriminalization, legalization, the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century Of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello, and welcome to Century Of Lies. Century Of Lies is a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay.

This week is part four of our Seattle Hempfest Special. We're going to look at what's happened to medical marijuana in the state of Washington since Washington voters approved I-502, which decriminalized adult social use of marijuana and legally regulates the commercial marijuana industry in that state.

Throughout the I-502 campaign, the ballot measure's supporters constantly reassured voters that the initiative would not interfere with Washington's medical marijuana program. And that was true. The Washington state legislature, on the other hand, decided after 502 passed that they would begin the process of changing both sets of laws, with a view toward rolling medical into the broader adult use commercial market. I-502 wasn't the problem, it was the catalyst. The legislature, ultimately, is at fault. The legislature, and the voters.

Opponents of I-502 spent a lot of time attacking the initiative, and attacking its supporters. The vitriol was astounding, and offensive. I do not know what would have happened if some of those opponents had put their energy into lobbying the legislature instead, starting before the vote, starting from the notion that passage of I-502 was inevitable and working with the legislature to come up with protections for patients before the vote, so that after it passed the momentum would have favored the interests of patients. But that's not what happened.

Well, you don't have to take my word for it.

On today's show, we're going to hear portions of a panel discussion on the medical marijuana in the state of Washington. The panel was held at this year's Seattle Hempfest, at the Hemposium Stage. The moderator of the panel is Dominic Corva, PhD, from the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy, we'll let him introduce the panel.

DOMINIC CORVA: Dr. MacRae is going to be getting his name tag real soon, just want to point that out. Karl Keich is a medical transitioner, a medical cannabis pioneer, he's now in 502. Of course, former state senator Jeanne Kohl-Welles, King County Council member, great to have you. Cannabis patient advocate and gardener Alison Bigelow. Patient advocate John Novak. So, without further ado, let's plunge right into it. What do patients do now? The title of this panel kind of gives us a really easy, you know, primer question. let's start with John on the end.

JOHN NOVAK: Hello everyone. Welcome to Hempfest. What a great day this turned out to be. I wish it would have been this nice over the last few days but hey, we'll take the sunshine.

So, where do we go from here? That is a really hard question. And I think that part of where we go, first, has to start from where we started, how we got to this point. So, that's kind of going to be where I, I talk to you about is kind of what brought us to this point. As far as the legalization laws in our state, recreational of course was passed with 502, and unfortunately we saw kind of during those debates that medical had a realistic possibility of being kind of rolled over and -- basically what we're seeing now is kind of what we predicted was going to happen.

One of the things that we did as a group was started public records requests to government agencies, and trying to get exactly what was going on from them. Not, you know, just taking people's word for it, but just finding out exactly what was going on behind the scenes. So that got us to a point where we realized, okeh, this is where we're at. How do we move forward? 502 was passed with a lot of money, lot of corporate interest, lot of activists too, and now we're in a place where medical has been left behind, and it's almost like we have to get back to our grassroots of protecting home growth for patients, especially, but in my opinion, home grows for all adults really is one of the best ways to protect patients because I believe if all adults can grow their own, then criminals and cops really aren't going to care about mine.

The other thing is sharing. If all adults can share, then we can supply patients who are having problems in, with some of, perhaps, the strains, and availability, that are being offered in the 502 shops. Moving forward without money is going to be a hard thing, and from what I've seen, emotions and money are the key drivers in politics, and we're trying to figure out a way to begin to get some money to try to push some kind of influence on these grassroots issues, and that's really kind of the approach that we're taking.

DOMINIC CORVA: Thank you, John. Alison?

ALISON BIGELOW: It's a tough, tough question. Patients now are, they have a choice of registering to get some benefits at retail stores that are medically endorsed, and, or you can choose not to register and not get those benefits. Many patients in our state have been used to quite a lot more benefits than, and to have medicine a lot, like, you can grow it or share it, people that are very sick have been even donated, you know, because when you're very sick you don't have the money to eat, you don't have a job anymore, you might not be able to afford it, or you're a parent who's taking care of a seizure child, or somebody who, you spend your day taking care of the child, you can't be working, so then you need donations.

And so our collective has been working for many years under the law, before there were dispensaries in the area, we were sharing expenses basically, and when some of the collectives came into the area in 2010, and they were working on the bill that Governor Gregoire vetoed, that would have allowed dispensaries in our area, that's when, there are a lot of stores that proliferated that were called dispensaries, but they ended -- calling themselves collectives, but there were people that were just out there, sharing medicine with their little groups of people, and we were legal, but not anymore.

So, it's really hard to say what to do, whether you should register. I personally don't believe that the benefits are worth putting your name on the piece of paper to register. But I've been noticing that there are some of the 502 producers and processors, and even retailers, that are working with them, that have discovered, well, that they came from the same family of people that have been used to sharing to heal people, and they weren't part of that, the dispensaries that came in and just made lots of money and made -- some of them made a bad name for medical marijuana in our state. Because they're all about money. But, anyway, I don't want to get too detailed into what happened, we have to move forward with what we have. Make lemonade out of lemons.

So, I think there are some producers and processors that are working. I've heard from them. Some of them that, it's actually less expensive to produce and provide it through recreational, and then you can actually look at their websites and see the test results of each batch that they grew, so you can see that it was good, and well grown, and tests well and clean. But you don't -- they didn't have to go through the hurdles because our state has made such big hurdles for these businesses, and so it is very expensive, nobody can take tax breaks or anything like that. And so, there are some of these people that are moving forward, trying to legally still do what they can do. And then there are some that are in it for the money, and it's up to the patients to kind of figure out where to go and what medicines, whose products, to look for, basically.

DOMINIC CORVA: Thank you, Alison. Council member Jeanne Kohl-Welles.

JEANNE KOHL-WELLES: Thank you, Dominic. Well, I've been working on marijuana legislatively for 20 years, starting in 1996, with Joanna McKee, the wonderful champion and pathfinder, groundbreaker, and she encouraged me out of the blue to get involved when I first went to the senate. And unfortunately, my sister-in-law died that year, and my best friend died in 1998, from cancer, and their brave oncologist, and this is before it was legal at all, urged them to try marijuana for the pain and suffering they experienced from the chemotherapy and radiation. So that's how I got involved with this.

And, as a result, I kind of became the de facto champion in the legislature, and we were able to get through Initiative 692. Some of my legislation went into that. And then over the years, we did have some gains for patients, which I could go into if you want later. But the main thing now is we do have a different system. I voted against Senate Bill 5202 last year, and I thought my legislation had a much better approach that would not have required a registry, but the senate Republicans did not agree.

Now, Dominic mentioned the word political, when you made your introduction. And, nothing about medical marijuana should be partisan. Pain and suffering are not partisan at all. But unfortunately, it is political, and I'm very concerned right now with what is happening with patients, to be able to have access to affordable, reliable, and safe source of their medicine. I supported Initiative 502, but I've been very upset about the regulatory system through the Liquor Cannabis Board. I don't have a way to introduce legislation anymore because I'm now on the King County Council, but I am doing that there. And I have a bill coming out this week, in fact, that will have to do with pesticide use in marijuana.

Two weeks ago, this was three weeks ago, the County Council passed an ordinance without my support, and that was to lessen the zoning, actually changed the zoning in King County, so that those in the rural areas would not have to have I-502 growing, production, processing, or retail stores. We did get some changes in that, which is being worked on, but I really did not like the fact that some local governments can implement zoning that -- it really restricts the access for patients.

I do not like it when wealthier people can get involved with I-502, and all of these wonderful operations that were dispensaries or points of access, or whatever, had to close down by July First. And they had the expertise, and it's not done that way in Colorado. The governor did veto most of my bill, Senate Bill 5073, in 2011, very unfortunately, we wouldn't be in the situation we are now. But it happened, and we have to deal with it. As John and Alison said, we have to deal with the situation as it is, but we need to be smart about dealing with it. And I for one don't think that the whole system should be run by corporations and wealthy businesses who come in and are really starting to take over the 502 businesses. So that's a huge concern for me.

I thought that our attorney general made a big mistake in his ruling that local governments can impose moratoria, or even bans, on marijuana operations under I-502. That's also left us in a very difficult situation. I'm opposed to the registries, we didn't have to do it that way at all, and I'm, I share Alison's concern about that. But I think we have to see what plays out now. We're in the midst of social change. Huge social change. And in a way, we're an experiment along with the other states and the District of Columbia. My legislation unfortunately, that would allow for home grows on the part of all adults, you didn't have to identify what the reason is, could not get through the Republican senate. Yet we're the only one of the four legalized states and the District of Columbia that don't allow for home grows. That's ridiculous, just ridiculous.

So, I think we will see a change in that. I'm not sure when it will happen. It may happen sooner if the elections come out with certain results in November, here and at the national level. The recent announcements by the Drug Enforcement Administration that they'll allow for some research was okeh, but not sufficient, but also to not declassify or reclassify marijuana from a Schedule One drug was crazy. So it was, I think a real case of agency cognitive dissonance. So we'll see. It's very fluid, I'll put it that way.

DOMINIC CORVA: Thank you, County Councilmember. You will not hear a politician talking more really, honestly, about this and this issue, I'll tell you, than this woman sitting right here. Absolutely amazing.

DOUG MCVAY: That's from a panel on the state of Washington's medical marijuana program, it was held at this year's Seattle Hempfest. The moderator was Dominic Corva, panelists included former state senator and current King County Commissioner Jeanne Kohl-Welles, patient advocate Alison Bigelow, patient advocate Karl Keich, patient advocate Jim MacRae, and patient advocate John Novak. We'll hear more in a moment.

You're listening to Century of Lies, a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

Now, let's get back to that panel on the state of Washington's medical marijuana program. Again, the panelists included former state senator and current King County Commissioner Jeanne Kohl-Welles, patient advocate Alison Bigelow, patient advocate Karl Keich, patient advocate Jim MacRae, and patient advocate John Novak. It was moderated by Dominic Corva, PhD, with the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy.

DOMINIC CORVA: All right. Karl Keich.

KARL KEICH: Yeah, this has certainly been a difficult transition. Some of us have been involved in the medical marijuana industry since its inception. We've certainly seen a lot of change, and I think that I look around and I see a lot of the faces here in this room, a lot of the pioneers that got into this with me. And back when we started, it was about compassion. It was about the love of the plant. It was about helping patients, and making this world a better place.

And, that's where we all started, and that's what medical marijuana used to be in this state. I founded the Seattle Medical Marijuana Association. I did that because I'm a patient myself, because I'm very passionate about the plant, and I've been fighting to change perceptions, first with my family, and then with the general public, and so much so that I said, you know what? I'm going to start a collective garden. And just to even say that word, you know, it just brings back these memories of the past, where, you know, we talked about collective gardens. We talked about home grows. Fifteen plant maximums. We talked about sharing with one another, and these are things that are not allowed, and it really makes access to medicine for the truly, truly sick people very, very difficult.

I've got a lot of, you know, sad stories to tell about, you know, medical marijuana in the transition. You know, one of the most difficult things has been the access to the right medicine for patients. Instead of being able to work with our providers to custom formulate medicine for people as they needed it, they're now subjected to getting 10 milligram dosages from the state. Maybe not the CBD to THC ratios that they're looking for. So that access has been difficult. It's been difficult to look people in the eye and say no I can't help you.

But, you know, just like with all change that's been difficult, we've taken a few steps forward and a few steps back. 502 is something that, you know, now it's more about money. It's more about the big business. It's more about ROI, and big corporate words like 280e and taxation, and, you know, it's actually becoming a business that has to stay compliant, and there's a lot of compliance issues with the state, so, you know, I want to, you know, commend Jeanne for being here, and just her being here and hearing what she says about this plant, and how well she can represent us, shows us what we as patients have to do. We have to keep fighting, we have to keep working with our legislative officials, to help educate them and empower them to help us, so that we can, you know, get back to the way things were, maybe get some of our rights back, maybe get some of these issues like patient registries figured out.

But again, it's only through activism and being involved in the process, and working with your legislative officials, making sure that your voices are heard. So, that's the most important thing that patients can do now. I'll be respectful of the rest of the panelists, and if you have any questions, I'll be happy to answer them.

DOMINIC CORVA: Thank you, Karl. Asking your local sheriff or your local politician, how can I help you, is a really great way to get them listening to you, because they don't get that very often necessarily. They get why don't you do this, and why don't you do that? How can I help you help me is a way to communicate that really, I think, gets across. Doctor Jim MacRae, last but not least.

JIM MACRAE: Thank you, Dominic. What can patients do now? Well, really you have two choices: lie down and take it the way it is, or you can demand access. You can demand access to sufficient access points, you can demand access to sufficient products, you can demand access to sufficient prices on those prices so you can source the amounts you're used to without breaking the bank and taking food away from your children, and that you can have the amounts that you used to be able to have within the medical system. That is what you can do, you can demand access to that.

Some facts around this. Straight line analytics, I do numbers. I look at this industry. My experience with the industry is as a patient. I am no longer a patient, because the system, as it is, is not acceptable to me to be a patient. A regulated, databased, tracked patient. I do data. I don't want to be in that freaking thing. I know what people do with that data. I did it for decades in the pharmaceutical industry.

Access points. The state, when they regulated alcohol, had three hundred and thirty four stores, maybe 332, I've had different stories on that. Guess how many access points they came up with two years after they got out of that monopoly? They had exactly 334 I-502 stores. That's how they came up with that freaking number. Okeh? So, two years after they're out of that business, three years after they're out of that business, you know how many alcohol access points there are under a free market in this state today? Over 5,000. Ten times as many as they have allocated with the medical 5052 stuff into this state. Demand access points. They are insufficient. They are insufficient in spite of what the University of Washington, using BOTEC's cracked methodology, and I don't know, they don't like it.

So why do you have power to demand this access? Because this market's going to be a billion dollar market this year. It will generate $375 million of excise taxes this fiscal year. That is by the way a hundred and three million dollars more than the Economic Forecast Research Council is currently predicting, they're wrong. I look at these numbers weekly. This thing is taking off in a power function, and that is because the patients are beginning to come over. They are not all over, they've got other places to get it, some of them still have stashes from the old days. This -- the patients will bring hundreds of millions of dollars of tax revenue, of jobs, of secondary benefits. Demand what you want.

And you also want to demand quality. There are five labs functioning today that I categorized as friendly based on some stuff they were doing, their data showed they were doing, suggested they were doing, a few months back. They represent 80 percent of the testing volume in this state today. The labs that I judged at that point, way back when, were being objective, I have no financial stake in this game, I want patients to know what they're getting. I want consumers to know what they're bloody well getting. Those good labs are doing less than 10 percent of the testing volume right now, and by the way, thanks to a young lady named Emily Spahn that Dominic introduced me to, we've cracked that code and I can tell the percentage of product moving off of every retailer's shelves that is friendly, I can tell the percentage that is being produced by each farmer that is tested by friendly labs, and I can tell the farms that are THC shopping. It's all together now, so thank you very much on that.

One last thing, Dom, and I know I'm taking time. The state of medical and the roll out. I talked to the Department of Health on Thursday afternoon, and as of 1:30 Thursday afternoon, there were 118 fully active medically certified stores in the state of Washington. The LCB has licensed 415, only 275 of those have sold more than $10,000 in the last three months, I consider that to be a definition of open, and functioning. And now we find out 118 of those presumably are actually able to service patients. They don't have the products to do it with. Demand that. Demand these access points do it.

How many of those, and this is a question I will be addressing within the next, and posting on my blog. I blog, if you know where it is. I am going to be looking at all of the priority one applicants out of 5052, the shake and bake frankensteins and some of the real people that came over, and we'll see how many of those suckers have activated their medical endorsements. If they have not done that after three months of this market, they should lose their licenses, as far as I'm concerned. Demand access, that's what patients can do, Dominic. Thank you.

DOMINIC CORVA: I want to ask just specifically what do patients do now with respect to the fear of being policed. In other words, what is the enforcement landscape that patients, who are struggling with access, and I think that we can say that there are definitely patients who are struggling for access, I don't think that's a controversial thing to say at this point.

JEANNE KOHL-WELLES: So, I think there is some positive information here that should be understood. I have that concern too, we need to make home growing legal. I don't believe anywhere in the state that patients have too much to worry about, being charged with criminal fines. It's more civil. But, in King County, with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and King County Sheriff John Urquhart, they are not prosecuting for patients.

They don't want to, they don't think it's right. John Urquhart, the sheriff, was actual sponsor on the voter's pamphlet for the 502 measure, and he says straight out, I'm not going to arrest people who are sick and benefit from that medication. Pete Holmes, the King County -- I mean, Seattle City Attorney, the same thing. But what's happening elsewhere in the state, I'm not too sure of.

But with -- it's really critical, here's something that's not been mentioned. There's a real disparity going on. There's a social justice and equity issue in terms of patients' access and safety, because the people who are in low income communities, or are in communities of color, who are people of color, they have more stores there, which are legal, fine. They have more dispensaries by some of the bad actors, not the good ones, out there, and we've got to make sure that everything is done so that we don't have more people of color being arrested, people who are low income being arrested. They deserve, just like everybody should have, equal access.

DOUG MCVAY: That again was a panel on the state of Washington's medical marijuana program, moderated by Dominic Corva, PhD, from the Center for the Study of Cannabis and Social Policy. The panelists included former state senator and current King County Commissioner Jeanne Kohl-Welles; patient advocate Alison Bigelow; patient advocate Karl Keich; patient advocate Jim MacRae; and patient advocate John Novak.

For now, that's all the time we have today. Thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century Of Lies, we're a production of the Drug Truth Network, on the web at DrugTruth.net. I'm your host Doug McVay, editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Drug Truth Network is on Facebook, please give its page a like. Drug War Facts is on Facebook too, give it a like and share it with friends. You can follow me on Twitter, I'm @DougMcVay and of course also @DrugPolicyFacts.

We'll be back next week with thirty minutes of news and information about the drug war and this Century Of Lies. For now, for the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long. So long!

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition: the century of lies. Drug Truth Network programs archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.