Medical marijuana on life support in Washington state


In a move that somehow attracted very little media attention last week, a Washington state appeals court upheld a previous decision allowing the County of Kent to ban all medical marijuana-related collective cannabis gardens and growing operations.
In doing so, they may very well have driven the final nail into the coffin of true, legal medical marijuana in the same state that joined Colorado in 2012 as becoming the first two in the country to legalize recreational weed smoking.

Washington’s weed woes began to make political headlines back around 2011, when the state legislature passed a law intended to legalize and regulate medical marijuana use in the state once and for all. The bill would have mandated all medical marijuana users to sign up for a state registry, and among other caveats, it would have specifically allowed “qualifying patients” to “create and participate in collective gardens for the purpose of producing, processing, transporting, and delivering cannabis for medical use”.
The state’s governor at the time, Christine Gregoire, cut out half of the bill’s measures by way of veto, slashing the proposed registration program, but leaving the language about collective gardens unscathed.
When 2012 rolled around, a flood of determined heads hit the polls in November, ousting Governor Gregoire, and making history by legalizing recreational pot use and possession for adults over the age of 21.
Lost in the celebration was the fact that I-502 did nothing to protect medical marijuana in the state, and as it turns out, may be the catalyst that leads to its demise.
Local Washington advocates for the protection of medical marijuana brought their case before the state appeals court, claiming that the ban enforced by the city of Kent was being enacted in violation of the state’s Medical Use of Cannabis Act – the same legislation that Governor Gregoire gutted on her way out of office.
When the state appeals court upheld the city of Kent’s ban on collective gardens in their ruling last week, they specifically cited the former governor’s short-fused veto pen, saying that, in summary, the parts of the bill that the governor refused to pass into law were the only parts that made medical marijuana cultivation, use, and possession semi-legal in the state.
In the courts’ official response to the ruling, Judge Stephen Dwyer wrote, “Thus, the plain language of the statute does not legalize the use of medical marijuana. Instead, it provides a defense to an assertion that state criminal laws were violated. As such, medical marijuana use, including collective gardens, was not legalized by the 2011 amendments to the MUCA.”

In other words, anyone involved with medical marijuana in the state of Washington is hereby entitled only to what is referred to as an “Affirmative Defense“, meaning they can still be arrested and charged with medical cannabis related crimes, at which point they will have the right to try to use the swiss-cheese legalese found in the half-shredded Medical Use of Cannabis Act to attempt to prove their innocence and avoid prosecution.
As the highest authorities in the land begin to mull over the possibility of legalizing marijuana nationally, on a recreational level, those who recognize, and appreciate, the differences between medicinal and recreational need to be careful in our rush to support the cause.
Just as CBD-only legislation is not an acceptable resolution in the overall struggle for cannabis acceptance, neither are purely recreational allowances that neglect to take into account the growers and users who are fighting for the reforms in the first place.