Douglas Hiatt says attorneys like him have a nickname for SB 5073, the gutted shell of a medical-marijuana reform bill that was passed in April then mostly vetoed by the governor. He says they call it the "lawyer retirement and protection program."
Gov. Chris Gregoire, meanwhile, is happy to trot out the "protections" she says were preserved in the bill: For example, organ-transplant recipients will supposedly no longer be denied transplants due to medical cannabis use; and those arrested can still use the "affirmative defense" method of excusing their medical-cannabis possession in court.
But Hiatt, an extremely prolific attorney who has been litigating medical-marijuana cases for years, tells Seattle Weekly that those protections are all talk.
"There is absolutely no protection from arrest in that bill. None. Zero. Zip. Period," says Hiatt. "It's window dressing. Propaganda. And anyone who says otherwise is full of shit."
Hiatt says the only benefit that made it through the governor's veto-pen coloring session was one that deals with collective cannabis gardens.
Douglas Hiatt says the recently passed medical-marijuana reform bill is "propaganda."
Under the new law "Qualifying patients may create and participate in collective gardens for the purpose of producing, processing, transporting, and delivering cannabis for medical use."
This right was was not afforded to patients before SB 5073 was passed and Hiatt, like others in the medical-marijuana community, appear to be at least thankful for that.
Still, the community-gardens portion of the bill is only one section. There are 63 others.
"This bill was bad to begin with, now it's completely unworkable and unenforceable," says CannaCare dispensary owner and medical-pot activist Steve Sarich. "Gregoire should have just vetoed the whole thing."
Vetoing the entire bill might have indeed saved Washington patients, providers, and law-enforcement officials major headaches by at least refraining from adding new, complex rules that add little to the law itself besides a heap of language.
So why did Gregoire only veto portions of SB 5073 and not the whole thing?
We asked Gregoire spokesman Scott Whiteaker, who e-mailed this one-sentence response while directing us to a letter that Gregoire wrote to lawmakers when she vetoed most of the bill:
She signed the sections that retained the provisions of Initiative 692 and provided additional state law protections and vetoed the sections that put state employees at risk.
But in vetoing the sections that "put state employees at risk," Gregoire made other sections of the bill that she didn't veto unenforceable.
For example, section 401 of the bill offers protections from arrest, provided that a "qualifying patient" meet several stipulations, one of which is that:
Gov. Gregoire vetoed most of the medical-marijuana reform bill SB 5073. Many think she should have just vetoed the whole thing.
The qualifying patient or designated provider keeps a copy of his or her proof of registration with the registry established in 18 section 901 of this act...
The problem is: There is no section 901. Section 901 (the portion that deals with the state-run patient registry) has been vetoed. Therefore no one can meet the requirement that affords said arrest protections.
Aaron Pelley, another local attorney who's been litigating cannabis cases for some time now, says that the bill is in such a Swiss-cheese-like state, it's nearly impossible to make sense of.
He says that no one will truly know what's in the law and how it affects people until patients start being arrested and their cases start being held up to legal scrutiny.
"Unfortunately it will take someone being dragged along the wheels of justice before the real implications of the bill are known," says Pelley. "Patients are definitely no better off than they were before. And now there's just an incredibly confusing bill to try and interpret."
Defending the governor, spokesman Whiteaker provided several examples of what he says are protections that are still contained in the bill. Writing the Weekly, Whiteaker says:
She kept sections of the bill that preserve Initiative 692's affirmative defense from state prosecution for patients and those who assist them with the medical use of marijuana.
She kept sections of the bill that provide additional state law protection from civil and criminal penalties.
Parental rights may not be restricted solely due to the medical use of cannabis without showing impairment in the performance of parenting functions.
Qualifying patients may not be denied an organ transplant solely because of medical marijuana use.
Medical marijuana patients and their providers may grow cannabis for their own use, designate a provider to grow on their behalf, or participate in a collective garden with other qualifying patients without fear of state criminal prosecutions.
But again, with the sole exception of the collective-garden portion, Pelley, Hiatt, and Sarich scoff, saying the governor is blowing smoke.
And in Hiatt's case, he finds the the governor's office's claim that the bill offers greater protections for organ-transplant victims "insulting." He should know too, since he represented Tim Garon, a medical-marijuana patient who died in 2008 because he was denied an organ transplant due to his medical-marijuana use.
"I watched that man die waiting for a transplant," he says. "And I'm offended that anyone would say that the organ-transplant portion of the bill means a goddamn thing. It doesn't help a fucking bit."
Whatever legal interpretation of SB 5073 one uses, a few things seem sure.
First, there is no concrete legal protection that will keep anyone in Washington state from being arrested, jailed, and prosecuted for possessing medically prescribed marijuana; and second, anyone who's a bar-certified attorney will probably make a handsome living once the pot cases start rolling in.