Here's the first thing you need to know: Governor Chris Gregoire is secretly a witch. Sure, she was dressed as Elmo for Halloween (really), but underneath that red plush suit was the same woman who vetoed the country's strongest-ever medical marijuana bill earlier this year.

In doing so, Gregoire gutted protections for patients, dispensaries, and growers that were long overdue—and she actually weakened the medical marijuana law that voters passed in 1998. See? Totally a witch!

Now for the good news: Lots of dispensaries in Seattle have found their new groove, operating as collective gardens (featuring up to 10 patients and 45 plants, and sometimes as clusters of cooperatives). While state law remains grossly imperfect—and Chris Gregoire is still a witch—the rules for patients haven't changed much. And things will get better: We'll have a new governor by this time next year.

So here's what you need to know to be a medical-marijuana patient and not get busted. (But consult a lawyer for reliable legal advice, not a bunch of stoners with a printing press like us.)

Get the Right Paperwork

To obtain an authorization, you'll need to find a qualified and reliable medical professional. Emphasis on reliable. Some are so sloppy and write so many authorizations under dubious circumstances, in fact, that the Washington State Department of Health is currently investigating two people who wrote authorizations at Hempfest. The details of the investigation are under wraps, but it appears that these care providers failed to check patients' medical records and give them a thorough exam. The best person to visit is your primary care provider—that is, your regular doctor. But some doctors are afraid of medical marijuana. Fortunately, lots of doctors who aren't cowards advertise their services. Find them in this paper and other papers, online, by word of mouth, etc. But, again, a word of caution: Scrutinize them to make sure you're getting a health care provider who will take your health seriously and give you a real exam. If you ever have to defend your rights in court, you want a doctor who looks credible and will testify on your behalf, not one who will suddenly be in Mexico.

Under current law, the providers who can approve authorizations include medical doctors, medical physician assistants, osteopathic physicians, osteopathic physician assistants, naturopathic physicians, and advanced registered nurse practitioners. To qualify for an authorization, a medical professional must find that you have one of several "terminal or debilitating" conditions. The Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission says these include cancer, HIV, multiple sclerosis, intractable pain, hepatitis C, and lots of other conditions. (For a complete list and more details, go to

Know the Law

Once you obtain proper documentation, 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, don't run your damn mouth. An attorney can make your case to a judge later.

Comply with the Rules

Patients may possess up to a 60-day supply of marijuana, which the state's department of health has deemed to be 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. As mentioned before, up to 10 patients can also grow cooperatively up to 45 plants. State law dictates that 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 Medicine

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 barely grow mold in my shower—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 collectives. 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—and certainly not with federal law, which prohibits all marijuana use. 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, had a few words of advice that are worth repeating. "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." recommended