Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Supreme Court of Washington, Ralph Seeley Respondent, v. State of Washington, Appellant, argued Sept. 25, 1996, decided July 24, 1997

Many of us do not remember this case, but it was the case that was pivotal in the decision of voters to pass an initiative for medicinal marijuana. I must preface this story by stating that Ralph Seeley was a friend of mine. I met him in the summer 1987 when were were employees of The Tacoma News Tribune. I was a work study student in the marketing and communications department, he was a columnist. We did not hit it off immediately as friends. He had written a controversial article and I had signed a petition in protest of one of his many controversial articles. Seeley came down to the marketing department to meet me in person. I was the only employee in that department to sign the petition. Others expressed concern about backlash and crossed their names off the petition.

Shortly after my brief stint in a field I did not feel suited for, I went to work for Associated Ministries in Tacoma and alongside Mary Plante, an AM employee. We headed up a student group addressing racism and sexism issues in the Tacoma School District. Seeley wrote a very nice article for our group. We met again as employees of an aviation newspaper at which time he had found out he had chordoma, a rare cancer that begins at the base of the spinal cord. He was often in a tremendous amout of pain. One evening he contacted me at home and asked me if I would accompany him to the emergency room at the UW in Seattle where he received treatment. Always thinking of others, Seeley insisted we stop at the UW bookstore and purchase a novel for me to read in the ER waiting room. Ralph was a champion of causes. He was fired from The Tacoma News Tribune but went on to finish a law degree at The University of Puget Sound School of Law. He finished despite losing one lung in the process. He was applauded by his mainly working class classmates who also had day jobs and went to school at night.

In the Superior Court of Pierce County, Seeley was granted a summary judgment by Rosanne Buckner and the state directly appealed. The decision of the Supreme Court case was written by Judge Madsen who held that 1) privileges and immunites clause of the Washington Constitution does not provide greater protection than the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution in the area of drug classification, and thus independent equal protection analysis based on the constitutional provision was not required; 2) statute was appropriately analyzed under rational basis test; 3) plaintiff failed to show that legislature's decision regarding the classification of the drug was arbitrary and obsolete; 4) the Washington Constitution does not create a right to use marijuana for medical treatment free from lawful exercise of government police power. In short, Seeley was not able to legally use marijuana. So he continued to use it illegally, as do most terminally ill patients who opt not to take controlled FDA approved substances.

Judge Sanders issued a dissenting opion on this case. In February of 1998, Seeley passed away at one of his infamous dinner parties at his house. He died before voters approved the initiative granting one the right to use medicinal marijuana. He died the same month I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I treated my pain at that time with one does of drip steroids. I have since not needed any painkillers. Last night at city council chambers activists and I testified about the reported SWAT team raids that took place in our city last week. One citizen reported that the door to her house was smashed, handles torn off her cabinets, and medicine scattered. I have not read any police reports. I have little to say about this except that federal laws trump state laws. Police Chief Ramsdell spoke to me in city hall and said the federal laws will be upheld in our city. The three TPD officers with him in the hallway concurred.

I had a vision of my friend Ralph on his wedding day at the now defunct bar Kelley's downtown on Tacoma Avenue. He was eating a brownie while shaking hands with his guests. Ralph was really happy that day. He was going to beat his cancer. The doctors had given him one year to live, he had lived twelve years. He had won the largest civil rights claim in history in an unrelated case, a decision that would be reversed after his death. I can still recall the evening we flew over this city in his twin prop plane. It was the day before the FAA yanked his license to fly because of his health problems. Point Defiance Park looks really dark at night from the air. But there was a lot of light coming from our city. There still is. -Alison Whiteman


tacomahemp said...

thank you Alison for your story, and your courage to stand with us at the Tacoma City Council meeting and share the story of Ralph, and his struggles and achievements. To hear that story, and not be able to tell the difference between then and now, as far as Law Enforcement in Tacoma is concerned, is just frighteningly obsolete thinking..
upholding Federal Law? you mean the ones that Obama just called the DEA off of, in states that have MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAWS? sounds like TPD wants to pick and choose which laws to enforce.
if you don't like the laws, petition to change them. gather signatures.. like we have to...

Tacoma Gawker said...
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