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What to Know About Medical Marijuana



What does the Medical Marijuana Act do?

Under certain conditions, a person using marijuana for medical purposes cannot be convicted in a state or municipal court of any criminal offense relating to marijuana. When the requirements are met, the statute protects both the patient, as well as the person providing marijuana to the patient (referred to as the “designated provider”).



What are the requirements for medical use of marijuana?

The requirements for raising a medical marijuana defense are set forth in RCW 69.51A.010, and consist of the following:

a.  You must have been diagnosed by a physician licensed to practice in Washington with a terminal or debilitating condition.
b.  You must be a resident of Washington at the time of that diagnosis.
c.  A doctor must recommend marijuana as a means of treating your condition.
d.  You must possess no more than a 60 day supply of marijuana.
e.  You must carry your medical authorization card signed by a doctor (with the appropriate language) and acceptable personal identification (i.e. a driver’s license or state identification card).
f.  You must produce those documents when requested to do so by the police.

A word of caution:  although it is a only a misdemeanor to possess less than 40 grams of marijuana, it is a felony to produce false medical marijuana documentation.



What is a “terminal or debilitating condition”?

As noted above, not every illness or condition justifies the use of medical marijuana. Only “terminal or debilitating conditions” qualify under the statute. The qualifying medical conditions set forth in RCW 69.51A.010 consist of the following:

(a) Cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other seizure disorder, or spasticity disorders; or (b) Intractable pain, limited for the purpose of this chapter to mean pain unrelieved by standard medical treatments and medications; or (c) Glaucoma, either acute or chronic, limited for the purpose of this chapter to mean increased intraocular pressure unrelieved by standard treatments and medications; or (d) Crohn’s disease with debilitating symptoms unrelieved by standard treatments or medications; or (e) Hepatitis C with debilitating nausea or intractable pain unrelieved by standard treatments or medications; or (f) Diseases, including anorexia, which result in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, seizures, muscle spasms, or spasticity, when these symptoms are unrelieved by standard treatments or medications; or (g) Any other medical condition duly approved by the Washington state medical quality assurance commission in consultation with the board of osteopathic medicine and surgery as directed in this chapter.

Although many of the conditions are worded broadly–such as intractable pain–the courts will not allow a defendant to raise a medical marijuana defense if the medical condition is not one included within this list.



How much marijuana can I possess at any one time?

By statute you are allowed no more than a 60 day supply. The Washington Administrative Code defines a 60-day supply as no more than 24 ounces of “usable marijuana” and no more than 15 plants. WAC 246-75-010(3)(a). Usable marijuana includes the dried leaves and flowers, but not the stems, stalks, seeds and roots. WAC 246-75-010(2)(d). A plant is “any marijuana plant in any stage of growth.” WAC 246-75-010(2)(d).

The above totals are what is referred to as a “presumptive amount.” A patient retains the right to offer proof that a greater amount of marijuana is needed for his or her medical condition. In order for this to be successful, the patient must have a recommendation from a doctor that supports this increased amount of marijuana.



Are there any restrictions on where I can consume marijuana?

Yes. You may not consume marijuana “in a manner or place which is open to the view of the general public.” Furthermore, this statute does not require an employer, school district, or correctional facility to make accommodations for the use of marijuana.



Can I be fired for using medical marijuana?

Yes. The court of appeals has ruled that the medical marijuana statute protects against criminal prosecution, but does not prevent an employer from firing an employee based solely on the use of medical marijuana. See Roe v. Teletech Customer Care, 152 Wn. App. 388 (2009). Although the Washington Supreme Court has accepted review of this case, the court of appeals decision is still the law of the land until it is reversed by the Supreme Court.



What if a police officer sees or smells my medical marijuana?

You should immediately identify yourself as a medical marijuana patient and provide your documentation.



Do I have to grow the marijuana myself?

No, the law allows you to obtain medical marijuana from other people.



Can I be prosecuted for selling or giving marijuana to a medical marijuana patient?

Yes, you can be prosecuted for delivering marijuana (a felony) unless you are a “designated provider” for that particular patient.



What is a designated provider?

A designated provider is someone who can lawfully provide marijuana to a patient. A designated provider must be at least 18 years of age, and have a written agreement to serve as a provider to a specific patient. Further, the provider is prohibited from consuming the marijuana he grew for the medical use of the patient. Finally, by statute, the provider can only be “the designated provider to only one patient at any one time.” Unfortunately, the meaning of “at any one time” has not been decided by the courts, so there is no legal authority as to whether a person can be a provider for one patient on Monday and a provider for a different patient on Tuesday. Given this legal uncertainty, a grower may run a risk of conviction by providing for more than one patient.



Does a medical marijuana authorization prevent the police from searching my house if they see or smell marijuana?

No. Under a recent Washington Supreme Court decision, a medical marijuana permit does not prevent the police from obtaining a search warrant based on the presence of marijuana. See State v. Fry, 168 Wn.2d 1 (2010). The Supreme Court reasoned that because the medical marijuana statute merely allows a patient to raise a defense at trial if criminal charges are filed, it has no impact on whether the police have probable cause to search your home.



Can my roommates, friends, or family be convicted if I am growing medical marijuana in the house?

They cannot be convicted based solely upon the presence of medical marijuana. However, any of these people could be convicted if he or she assisted in the growing of the marijuana, smoked the marijuana, or gave some of the marijuana to another person.

There obviously is much more to know about medical marijuana than what can be put forth on this web page. If you are charged with a crime relating to marijuana, it is essential that you contact an experienced attorney immediately to discuss your options and prepare your defense.

If you have questions about a medical marijuana, call us for a FREE 30-minute initial consultation at 206-957-2247.  We can help!




Dixon & Cannon, Ltd. is licensed to practice law in the States of Arizona and Washington. This Web site is created for your general information only and does not represent legal advice. An attorney-client relationship between you and our law firm is not created by you reading this information or calling us. If we decide to work together, we sign a contract to establish our attorney-client relationship.