Washington’s Medical Marijuana Law Offers Little Protection To Patients

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Graphic: Cannabis Defense Coalition

​Growing marijuana, as challenging as it can be, is the easy part. Figuring out the state law that allows sick people to use pot is a lot harder for Washington patients.

Since Washington voters passed a law in 1998 legalizing medical marijuana for seriously ill patients with their doctor’s recommendation, patients have been frustrated over how to legally get cannabis while following the rules, reports Diana Hefley at the Everett Herald Net.
Police officers, on the other hand, say they are faced with balancing the rights of medical marijuana patients and their duty to enforce the law, which makes pot illegal for everyone else.
The legal haze was evident in the criminal trial of a medical marijuana patient in Snohomish County, Washington in February.

A former Bothell women denied allegations she was a “drug dealer.” The 24-year-old, who has medical marijuana paperwork signed by her doctor, said she was growing pot for her own medical treatment.
The jury, after wading through math problems and gardening lessons, took less than three hours to find the defendant not guilty, after three days of testimony.

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Photo: ACLU
Alison Holcomb, ACLU: “Medical marijuana patients shouldn’t be arrested for marijuana-related offenses”

​”Fortunately, these are infrequently going to trial, but I’m not surprised there is confusion,” said Alison Holcomb, drug policy director for the Washington chapter of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
While Washington’s law says patients can use marijuana as medicine with a doctor’s approval, it offers no guidance on how to obtain the herb legally.
Qualified patients in Washington are allowed to possess a “60-day supply” of medical marijuana. They need a doctor’s note and must have, according to state law, a “terminal or debilitating illness” for which common treatments have proven ineffective.
The law doesn’t say how or where patients are supposed to obtain marijuana, nor does it spell out exactly how much pot is a 60-day supply.
The Legislature tried to clarify the matter in 2007, when they asked the state Department of Health to provide guidelines for a 60-day supply. Health officials, after holding a series of public meetings for input, arrived at 24 ounces of usable marijuana plus 15 plants.
Since those limits are just guidelines and not law, patients can theoretically possess and grow more than those amounts — if they are able to convince a judge or jury it is all for their own medicinal use.
Holcomb said that more needs to be done to protect authorized patients and providers (patients who are unable to grow their own marijuana can designate a caregiver to grow for them).
Washington’s medical marijuana law, as ruled by the state Supreme Court, doesn’t protect patients from arrest, it merely provides them with an affirmative defense at trial. According to the court ruling, patients — even those following the rules — can be arrested and carried to jail every time officers smell pot at their home or in their vehicle.
That’s right: In a state with severe budget difficulties – so bad that Gov. Christine Gregoire has been forced to slash budgets, shut down state parks, and discontinue programs designed to help the homeless – we are told that it’s perfectly OK and perfectly legal for police officers to spend public resources searching, harassing, and arresting sick and dying legal medical marijuana patients.
“We don’t think that’s what Washington voters intended when they passed the law,” Holcomb said.
The ACLU wants to see authorized medical marijuana patients free from the threat of prosecution. “Medical marijuana patients shouldn’t be arrested for marijuana-related offenses,” Holcomb said.
According to Holcomb, medical marijuana patients also need safe and legal access to the herb.
“Patients need somewhere safe to obtain quality medical marijuana and a consistent supply, so they don’t have to go to the black market,” she said.
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