Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Washington Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna Likes Playing Doctor

Artwork by Jim Wheeler jimmy42942@yahoo.com

Attorney General Rob McKenna isn't a physician. When it comes to medicine, he is no more qualified than any other layman. Yet he feels qualified to second-guess doctors when they recommend legal medical marijuana to patients with terminal or debilitating conditions. And he feels free to deny the best medical care available to an entire [under]class of people (probationers) in the state of Washington.

Rob is, in effect, practicing medicine without a license.

McKenna is the top law enforcement officer in the state. But instead of enforcing the will of the people of Washington, as clearly expressed in state law (RCW 69.51.A), it seems Rob prefers to take his right-wing marching orders from the Bush administration in Washington, D.C.

Rob shows the kind of callow ambition and obnoxious arrogance which is, unfortunately, not uncommon among career politicians with an eye on the Governor's office. Rather than enforcing the law he has sworn to uphold, he prefers to enforce the backwards moral imperialism of his conservative Republican overseers in the federal government.

Rob's ambition outstrips his competence and abilities. He has reportedly never tried a case before a jury. He had never argued an appeal until he became AG. His is a career that has been entirely centered on politics -- and not just garden variety politics, but the self-righteous kind that panders to his far-right base by appearing to be "tough on druggies and criminals," which in this case translates to "arresting sick people who haven't broken the law."

McKenna's name has become synonymous with the kind of SWAT team, kick-the-door-in tactics of which many county drug enforcement units are so fond. On April 20, I was at a Seattle meeting of legal medical marijuana patients, where I heard many sick, disabled, and in many cases, elderly people describe their fear of a visit (or a return visit) from gung-ho deputies who want to be just like the ones on TV.

"...Seeing people in wheelchairs and with other severe illnesses talking about how much they fear the police or about how fervently the prosecutors in this state are still trying to send them to jail is just a jarring experience," writes political blogger Lee Rosenberg, who was at the same Cannabis Congress meeting I attended. "When polled on this subject, overwhelming majorities of this state’s residents support the legality of this medicine and believe doctors should be allowed to authorize it, but that hasn’t translated to real justice for any of these folks. What the Bush Administration’s Department of Justice is doing (and which Rob McKenna’s office is faithfully following) is inexcusable. It’s really hard not to think of it as a human rights violation."

These raids on otherwise law-abiding citizens are happening in no small part because of Rob's policy of aping the Bush Administration's scorn of medical marijuana. The continued prosecution of patients with a legitimate doctor's medical marijuana recommendation is one of the most unbelievably flagrant examples ever of a top law enforcement official ignoring the law.

According to medical marijuana experts and patients, an abrupt change in policy from the AG's office became obvious around July of last year. The office of the previous attorney general, now Gov. Christine Gregoire, took a somewhat more measured and respectful approach to state laws regarding marijuana. But then came Rob, with his big ambitions and his out-of-state shot callers, and public policy did a 180.

You are probably thinking, "But isn't this a shameful waste of taxpayers' money? Shouldn't these law enforcement resources be directed toward real crime? Aren't the courts already snowed under with folks who have at least actually broken the law?"

Yes, yes, and yes.

Sometimes I Feel Like A Low-Hanging Fruit

Among Rob's favorite targets, of course, are the easiest ones (that's how a coward gets down) -- people who have legitimate, physician-approved documentation to legally use medical marijuana, but who are under the supervision of the Washington Department of Corrections as probationers.

Many DOC officials are willing to be reasonable and recognize the medical marijuana law as applying to probationers under their supervision -- but Rob is on a mission from Bush; he'll have none of that. An edict has come down from his office to every probation officer in the state instructing them that probationers under the supervision of the Washington DOC will be declared in violation if they show up positive for marijuana on urinalysis tests.

Lacking the courage or leadership to reveal who gives him orders, McKenna has illegally invoked "attorney-client privilege" when pressed by medical marijuana activists for a copy of the memo in which he has denied Washington patients their legal medicine if they are on probation.

Never mind that the law in Washington explicitly states that "Any person meeting the requirements appropriate to his or her status under this chapter shall be considered to have engaged in activities permitted in this chapter and shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, for such actions."

That sounds pretty clear to me, Rob. I don't hear any ambiguity in that.

So why is there a two-tiered system of medical care in the state of Washington? Why do, by McKenna's fiat, people on probation receive different, inferior medical care than other citizens?

Who is Rob McKenna to tell suffering patients that they don't really deserve the relief which medical marijuana affords them? Why does Rob feel empowered to sentence probationers to the additional punishment of unremitting nausea and intractable pain?

It's not as if we're asking for guns, or that you give us back the right to vote. Medical marijuana patients, including those on probation, just want to be able to grow and use the herbal medicine that works best for them.

We aren't asking for any special treatment. We only want to be treated just as any other legally qualified patient in the state.

All we ask of Rob is that he enforce and respect the law -- rather than writing his own rules. We ask that he abide by the will of the voters, rather than excluding from the legal medical care available to everyone else, groups which he perhaps finds distasteful.

Last time I checked, Rob got elected Attorney General; he wasn't elected God. When it comes to behavior that is plainly and explicitly protected by the law -- like medical marijuana -- he should keep his narrow-minded moral judgments to himself.

Rob's Also Busy Working For McCain

Rob doesn't spend all of his time ignoring Washington state law to carry out the far-right agenda of Washington, D.C.

He further demonstrates that in his selfish little world, only his political career matters -- the people of Washington be damned -- with the fact that he's also the state chairman of Republican John McCain's campaign for president. So while arresting the sick, disabled and dying isn't occupying his time, he's actively supporting the candidate responsible for sending millions of national defense dollars and thousands of jobs out of Washington state and to a foreign contractor.

As an elected official paid with your tax money, I'll bet you thought he was working for you, fairly and impartially enforcing the law in a non-partisan manner... Yeah, right.

Democratic Chairman Dwight Pelz has called on McKenna to stop putting his partisan loyalty to the Republican Party ahead of the interests of Washingtonians. Pelz says Rob should resign his role as Washington State Chairman of John McCain’s presidential bid. Pelz’s call comes as pressure continues to mount regarding McCain’s role in the Boeing tanker deal controversy.

McCain helped EADS, the French-owned company for which many of his top campaign advisors lobbied to win a $35 billion Air Force tanker contract over Boeinga move that will ship at least 9,000 jobs overseas directly from the state of Washington.

“Now that John McCain has decided to put his lobbyist friends above the interests of Washington’s working families, Republican Rob McKenna should set aside his blind loyalty to the Republican Party and step aside from the campaign,” Pelz said. “Washingtonians quite literally can't afford a third Bush term of failed economic policies that ship American jobs overseas, and Republican Rob McKenna should stop leading that charge here in Washington state.

What Is Rob Thinking?

Why does Rob seem to believe he is a federal agent, when he's been elected to enforce state laws?

Why does Rob believe that he has more power than the voters of Washington, and can therefore disregard their wishes?

Why does Rob believe that he is qualified to make medical decisions?

All I can conclude is that Rob McKenna likes playing doctor.

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