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September 15, 2014 at 6:32 AM

Rare good news for state mental health system

Since the state Supreme Court’s “psychiatric boarding” ruling last month, the news has been all bad for the state. The ruling requires Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration to find at least 145 new beds, or else patients who need involuntary psychiatric care could be cut loose, without treatment, to the streets.

The view from  the King County Superior court room at Harborview Medical Center where  involuntary commitment cases are heard. (Mike Seigal / Seattle Times)

The view from the King County Superior court room at Harborview Medical Center where involuntary commitment cases are heard. (Mike Seigal / Seattle Times)

That task is so big that the Department of Social and Health Services had to get an unusual 120-day stay on the court’s ruling. And it’s so expensive that Inslee authorized $30 million in un-budgeted mental health funding, just to get through 2014.

Last week, the state finally got some good news. DSHS got word that it obtained a waiver from what’s known as the “IMD exclusion,” an arcane 1960’s-era rule that bans Medicaid from paying for psychiatric hospitalizations in facilities larger than 16 beds.

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Comments | Topics: mental health, psychiatric boarding, state Legislature

September 12, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Are cities being racially discriminatory in banning legal marijuana?

Recreational Marijuana Ordinances across Washington (Click image to view graphic interactive)

Recreational marijuana ordinances across Washington (Click image to view graphic interactive)

The growing number of cities and counties in Washington opting out of Washington’s marijuana legalization experiment is eating away at the foundation of Initiative 502, as a Seattle Times editorial in Thursday’s paper suggested. The lack of stores in widening swaths of the state perpetuates the black market and maintains underground access of youth.

A new lawsuit filed in Benton County Superior Court against Kennewick’s ban takes the argument further: Bans are also racially discriminatory. The suit, filed on behalf of a would-be marijuana company, suggests that Kennewick’s ban (as well as similar prohibitions in all three Tri-Cities and Franklin County) push the underground marijuana trade to poorer neighborhoods. Since marijuana is a cash cow for gangs, they’ll continue to battle for turf.

Quoting from the lawsuit:

“Gang warfare is a natural consequence of cannabis prohibition in Kennewick and the Tri-Cities region. Gangs engage in street warfare to protect their ‘turf,’ the physical location, often a public street corner or park, or territory in which they sell drugs.”

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Comments | Topics: alison holcomb, initiative 502, marijuana

August 18, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Busting the stigma of mental illness

In the course of researching for the “What’s troubling mental-health care” editorial package published in Sunday’s Seattle Times, I heard again and again stories of people with mental health disorders living full, healthy lives. These stories rarely make it into the paper, as they are shoved aside by tragedies linked to mental illness. Here are two stories, shared in order…

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Comments | Topics: bipolar disorder, mental health, mental illness

August 11, 2014 at 5:45 AM

With the end of psychiatric boarding, a new mental health crisis decades in the making

The state Supreme Court’s opinion on Thursday invalidating psychiatric “boarding” has thrown Washington’s already-messy mental-health system into chaos.

An estimated 350 very ill people across the state are currently being warehoused in emergency rooms, usually without treatment, because the state hasn’t funded enough psychiatric beds. State and county mental-health managers are scrambling to suddenly find beds for them. If they don’t, the patients could be cut loose, with potentially dire consequences, particularly to themselves.

King County mental health director Jim Vollendroff told me Friday morning eight people were in limbo. “We’re scrambling for those,” he said.

What’s disturbing is that Thursday’s ruling, In The Matter of The Detention of D.W., seemed to catch the state by surprise, with no advance planning.

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Comments | Topics: dshs, mental health

July 30, 2014 at 6:20 AM

Marijuana, parenting and toking in public

When voters ended marijuana prohibition in Washington, we didn’t end the civic duty not to be a public jerk.

Not the place to light up. (Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times)

Golden Gardens in Ballard: not the place to light up. (Photo by Greg Gilbert/Seattle Times)

That message hasn’t gotten through. Nearly every parent I know — myself included — has a story similar to one posted on Facebook by my friend Natalie Singer-Velush.

She took three kids — two 8-year-olds and a 7-year-old — for a quick mid-afternoon trip to Golden Gardens on Sunday. Pails, shovels and ice cream in hand, they set up camp… and were enveloped in a cloud of marijuana smoke from three adults sitting upwind just a few feet away.

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Comments | Topics: marijuana

July 14, 2014 at 6:20 AM

What candidates really mean when they say “secure the border”

Interviewing Congressional candidates over the past two weeks, The Seattle Times editorial board kept a tally of vague but repetitive phrases. Top of the list: “secure the border first.” I asked candidate after candidate to define “secure,” and got more vacuous rhetoric. Why is that so hard? Because the candidates aren’t saying what they really think. Christopher Wilson,…

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Comments | Topics: border security, congress, illegal immigration

July 8, 2014 at 6:25 AM

State marijuana stores will disappoint. But that’s a good thing.

UPDATED, 8:40 a.m.: Brian Smith of the Liquor Control Board said said an emergency rule adopted by the board on June 25 requires products be homogenized (assuring the psychoactive THC is equally distributed), scored for individual dosage (such as the squares on a chocolate bar) and be submitted to the board for pre-approval. That could theoretically happen within weeks, although a shortage of marijuana from licensed processors could further delay the appearance of edibles.

ORIGINAL POST: When Washington’s first legal marijuana stores open today, they’ll lack a product that will eventually dominate the market. It would be like opening a liquor store by selling only gin.

But in choosing to temporarily not have marijuana-infused food and drink products in stock, the state Liquor Control Board made a smart gamble. At the risk of alienating some customers,  the state avoids the potential health and public-relations debacle vividly described in New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd’s now-famous “panting and paranoid” bad trip from a marijuana-infused chocolate bar.

It is a good call.

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July 2, 2014 at 6:25 AM

Send Gordon Hirabayashi to the National Statuary Hall

Who's missing from the U.S. Capitol's Statuary Hall?

Who’s missing from the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall?

Washington State’s delegation in the National Statuary Hall hasn’t been updated since 1980, when the bronze casting of Sister of Providence nun Mother Joseph was shipped east. I think Washington should recall her, or missionary Marcus Whitman, and send back Gordon Hirabayashi, the courageous resister of Japanese-American internment in World War II.

Hirabayashi was among the interesting responses to my suggestion that we “hit refresh” on the state’s statues in the Capitol Statuary Hall collection, which honors two deceased icons from each state.

Whitman and Mother Joseph have their fans. Sister Judith Desmarais, of the Sisters of Providence’s Mother Joseph province, defends Mother Joseph as a pioneering architect who built 30 schools and institutions.

But others liked the idea of a fresh contingent. Responses linked — probably for the first time ever — Kurt Cobain and Bing Crosby as worthy candidates. Reader Ken Bertrand of Seattle said he suggested

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Comments | Topics: Bing Crosby, Capitol Statuary, Edward R. Murrow

June 26, 2014 at 6:30 AM

Who represents Washington state in the U.S. Statuary Hall?

In the National Statuary Hall version of “The Bachelor,” Marcus Whitman would be a big winner. As depicted by his statue, the missionary doctor from Walla Walla had rippled thighs, a buckskin shirt tight across his abs and a hipster beard. Narcissa Whitman would’ve been thrilled, had she not been killed by Cayuse Indians. That statue would…

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Comments | Topics: history, washington state

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