PoliBuzz: Some medical pot advocates seek a united front, with mixed results

Staff writerJanuary 15, 2014 

Troy Stephens, left, and Jeremy Miller stand outside a tent where patients can smoke on the Capitol campus in Olympia. The sign on the tent reads: "Public notice: This facility provides a medication room for medical cannabis patients."

JORDAN SCHRADER

Medical-marijuana advocates are vocal, passionate and often blistering in defense of their industry, but they tend to fracture into groups and even train their fire on each other.

Back during the campaign for legalization of recreational marijuana, not only did many medical supporters oppose their fellow pot activists who backed legalization, but the opposition couldn't agree. One opposition group even crashed the other's press conference.

So it's no surprise that what looked Tuesday and Wednesday like a sea of organized opponents to new legislation on medical marijuana was actually split into groups and subgroups, sometimes at odds on strategy.

The first people I met were the red-shirted folks with the Cannabis Action Coalition. Some of them, including organizer Steve Sarich, complained about the message being sent by a different group setting up a tent for patients to smoke marijuana on the Capitol campus.

He doesn't want lawmakers seeing people "act like a bunch of stupid stoners," he said.

I went over to the small tent, which it turned out was approved by the Department of Enterprise Services. The agency manages state property and says authorized patients can use marijuana in the tent as long as they are out of public view and as long as the drug isn't for sale.

Jeremy Miller of Kent, who runs a cannabis farmers market in Seattle, said he was following those directives. He said the tent was a way to follow the law and prevent people from illegally smoking pot in public view, which happened on earlier lobbying days at the Capitol.

And when I asked about some of the anger being directed at lawmakers from activists, he said his allies are trying to avoid a confrontational style. It's the other group, the action coalition, that "has not done a good enough job giving people direction," he said.

The action coalition did have handouts telling participants to be respectful.

Many of the people not in the defense coalition are Seattle Hempfest participants. They are organized under an umbrella coalition with a catchy name: Health Before Happy Hour.

In other words, they believe medical marijuana, authorized by voters in 1998, should take precedence over the recreational market, which voters legalized in 2012.

Yet when I asked one of the Health Before Happy Hour organizers about who was with whom, Kari Boiter was quick to say her group wasn't the one with the smoking tent. That was done by people who had joined up with her group, yes, but just for the purposes of the lobbying day in Olympia.

Boiter, of Tacoma, said she's trying to unite different groups working toward a common goal of preserving the medical system.

One of the Health Before Happy Hour handouts touts a list of groups and businesses backing its efforts and another stresses unity: "If we are divided through miscommunication, misdirection and misinformation, the enemies of medical cannabis will find it very easy to oppress patients and limit meaningful regulation."

Another activist, Lydia Ensley, said divisions overlook what they have in common.

"At one point..." she said, "we all could have been arrested together."

We'll have more in a weekend story on what activists want, and what might happen in the Legislature.

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