Northwest Medical Marijuana Guide
Our state's laws on medical marijuana are confusing, poorly written, and ambiguous. But any day now, the state legislature could act to establish clarity for patients, growers, dispensaries, and law enforcement. It could also ban cops from hauling authorized medical marijuana patients off to jail. That would be out-fucking-standing.
Even if the state legislature acts—and odds are good that it will act within the next few weeks—any new law wouldn't go into effect until summer. So let's begin with an overview of the law we have now.
Your Rights as a Patient
Once you obtain proper medical marijuana documentation (more info about that here), state law provides "patients and their designated providers a defense in state and local courts to criminal charges relating to growing, possessing, or administering medical marijuana," reports the ACLU of Washington. To be clear: That's not a defense from arrest. It's only a defense in court. If an officer wants proof that you can legally possess marijuana, present your authorization and state identification. Fortunately, many cops, particularly those in or near Seattle, won't arrest a patient if he or she appears to be complying with state rules. But if a cop chooses to arrest you, cooperate, and don't run your damn mouth. An attorney can make your case to a judge later.
Complying with State Rules
Patients may possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana, according to a Washington State law passed by voters in 1998. What's a 60-day supply? The state's Department of Health decided a few years ago that it's up to 15 live pot plants and 24 ounces of dried marijuana (but you can make a case in court for needing more). Each patient is allowed to designate in writing one care provider, who can cultivate or possess marijuana for one patient. This means that cooperative cultivation—several grows of 15 plants in the same place or more than 24 ounces at one site—is not legal. State law also says you can't use or grow medical marijuana in plain view of the public, smoke it in any place tobacco smoking is also prohibited, or be under the influence while driving.
How to Get Marijuana
If you can garden, as mentioned above, you can grow up to 15 plants at a time. But if you're like me—I can kill a Chia Pet in a week—that's out of the question. Besides, for people who are seriously ill, waiting three months for a garden to reach fruition while suffering in agony is absurd. That's why we need dispensaries. They sell pot by the gram, eighth, and ounce, infused into tinctures, baked into cookies, etc. Some specialize in refined strains; some are bargain basements. Keep in mind: A dispensary that provides marijuana to multiple patients isn't necessarily in compliance with state regulations. That said, lots of dispensaries exist anyway because sick folks need to get their pot and, particularly in King County, prosecutors understand their value in facilitating access for patients.
A Lawyer's Advice
Jeffrey Steinborn, the region's premier marijuana defense attorney, has a few words of advice. "If you're a patient, you can do what you want, though I suggest that you not offend your neighbors who don't like the smell. Growing up to 15 plants, you're pretty safe most places. It's doubtful that you'll be prosecuted for patronizing a dispensary, but it's buyer beware when it comes to price and quality. There are still those cops who'll bust you and make you hire a lawyer, but they are thinning out."
Many folks make hay over federal regulations that ban medical marijuana outright. True, federal agents and courts consider all pot illegal. But federal courts and cops handle only the tiniest fraction of pot cases—and only the big ones. Don't want the Feds up in your junk? Don't grow or possess a huge amount of pot. Also: As the ACLU of Washington reminds us, in 2009, the US Department of Justice told federal prosecutors not to investigate or prosecute individuals in "clear and unambiguous compliance" with state medical marijuana laws. So comply with the state's medical marijuana laws, as described above.
Changes to the Law
As this guide went to the printer, lawmakers in Olympia were on the verge of passing a bill to license dispensaries, permit growers, protect patients from arrest, regulate doctors, and lay down strict rules for cops. By the time you read this, it may have passed. Or it could have failed. Or they could have changed parts of it in ways that our Magic 8 Ball can't envision. To find out what changes may (or may not) be coming, go to the websites of the ACLU of Washington (www.aclu-wa.org) or the Cannabis Defense Coalition (www.cdc.coop).