Problems in the Washington State Law on Medical Marijuana

Washington voters passed Initiative 692, the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, in November of 1998. This law allows patients who meet certain medical criteria to use marijuana for medicinal reasons with a doctor’s recommendation. The law defines medical use as the production, possession, or administration of marijuana. It allows patients to possess a 60-day supply. The law also allows patients to name a provider to assist the patient in growing or obtaining his or her medicinal marijuana. Patients and providers can cite the medical use of marijuana as a defense against state criminal charges, thereby avoiding prosecution.

Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill (ESSB) 6032 was passed in 2007 to clarify the law for patients, doctors, designated providers, and law enforcement. It directs the Department of Health to report on patient access to an adequate, safe, consistent, and secure source of medical marijuana. The department must consider alternative distribution systems and gather information from literature in the medical and scientific fields, consult with experts and the public, and review the best practices of other states who have medical marijuana laws.

Since then, Washington has seen a slow, but steady increase in authorized medical marijuana patients as well as dispensaries, cooperatives, and provider partnerships. Given the extremely volatile atmosphere concerning the medical legitimacy of marijuana, in addition to rising patient numbers, it is inevitable that a patient, provider, or dispensary will have contact with the law enforcement community. Indeed, this has already been the case in several areas of Washington State.

Introduction to Initiative 692 and ESSB 6032

These laws have allowed Washington residents with severe debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana under the supervision of their doctors. Below are just a few of the conditions that qualify for medical marijuana use. More conditions are added as research findings result in reducing or eliminating the harsh effects of those debilitating conditions.  

* AIDS/HIV * Cancer * Cachexia (Severe Body Wasting) *Arthritis * Severe Pain * Severe Nausea * Seizure Disorders * Muscle Spasms * Multiple Sclerosis * Epilepsy * Migraines * Sleep Apnea *Gliomas * Multiple Sclerosis * Alzheimer’s * Dystonia * Fibromyalgia * Hepatitis C * Diabetes * Pruritis * Osteoporosis * MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphyloccus Aureus)* ALS (Lou Gherig’s Disease) * Tourette’s Syndrome * Hypertension * GI Disorders * Incontinence * Rheumatoid Arthritis * Additional conditions may qualify.

WAC 246-75-010 – Medical Marijuana

1)  Purpose. The purpose of this section is to define the amount of marijuana a qualifying patient could reasonably expect to need over a sixty-day period for their personal medical use. It is intended to:

(a) Allow medical practitioners to exercise their best professional judgment in the delivery of medical treatment;

(b) Allow designated providers to assist patients in the manner provided in chapter 69.51A RCW; and

(c) Provide clarification to patients, law enforcement and others in the use of medical marijuana.

2) Definitions.

(a) “Designated provider” means a person as defined in RCW 69.51A.010.

(b) “Plant” means any marijuana plant in any stage of growth.

(c) “Qualifying patient” means a person as defined in RCW 69.51A.010.

(d) “Useable marijuana” means the dried leaves and flowers of the Cannabis plant family Moraceae. Useable marijuana excludes  stems, stalks, seeds and roots.

3) Presumptive sixty-day supply.

(a) A qualifying patient and a designated provider may possess a total of no more than twenty-four ounces of useable marijuana, and no more than fifteen plants.

(b) Amounts listed in (a) of this subsection are total amounts of marijuana between both a qualifying patient and a designated provider.

(c) The presumption in this section may be overcome with evidence of a qualifying patient’s necessary medical use.

Both patients and law enforcement are strongly encouraged to read over Washington’s medical marijuana laws to ensure complete legal compliance.

How to Become a Patient:

Substitute Senate Bill 5798, Medical Marijuana, passed the legislature in the 2010 session. This bill makes the following changes to Chapter 69.51A RCW: 

Advanced registered nurse practitioners, naturopathic physicians, medical physician assistants, and osteopathic physician assistants have been added to the list of health care providers who can recommend medical marijuana. Requires recommendations for medical marijuana written on or after June 10, 2010 to be written on tamper-resistant paper. Patients are no longer allowed to use a copy of their medical records in lieu of a written recommendation. The patient meets with a physician or one of the above authorized professionals.   If the patient meets the criteria for medical marijuana, the physician fills out a medical marijuana authorization on tamper-resistant paper to prevent fraudulent practices.

What should an Officer do when confronting a patient?

1) Medical marijuana users are by legal definition debilitated with a chronic disease. Thus, to ensure safety, begin by asking if they are potentially in any immediate medical emergency for which an ambulance might need to be contacted.

2) Once safety is established, ask for the patient’s medical marijuana authorization if they have yet to give it to you.

3) Properly package any paraphernalia, equipment, or evidence such that, if it is returned to the patient/suspect, the police department will not be liable for property damages.  

Important Considerations for Patients and Law Enforcement:

It is the responsibility of law enforcement to protect any property confiscated during an investigation into an authorized medical marijuana patient. A patient is allowed to have 15 plants in various stages of growth and 24 ounces of usable medicine. However, a patient may possess more than this quantity if it is in the opinion of their doctor that more is needed. For quantities of marijuana in excess of these amounts, a patient or his or her primary provider may raise as an affirmative defense to charges of violation of state law that such greater amounts were medically necessary to address the patient’s debilitating medical condition. An authorized patient may not use marijuana in public, which includes in the vehicle.

Washington’s medical marijuana law allows patients to designate a “provider” or individual who has an active role in the patient’s health and well-being. Many patients choose to assign a provider for their medical marijuana needs. However, both the provider and patient must follow the law at all times or risk arrest and prosecution. While this law has been revised since its inception in 1998, there are still many parts of the law that need further clarification and revisions.

As more medical marijuana patients become legal, the law is going to go through various changes itself. It is important for patients, providers, law enforcement, prosecutors, and the public to become knowledgable about the current law as well as keeping up with the changes that will be forthcoming. Supporters of medical marijuana and medical marijuana patients will need to educate not only the public, but law enforcement as well. In order to see the changes and revisions that are necessary in Washington State laws on medical marijuanabefore Washington State will need to revise the medical marijuana law to decrease confusion, safety for medical marijuana patients, and giving law enforcement the tools necessary in the unlawfullness of arresting and prosecuting patients who are following the current and future legal guidelines of medical marijuana use.

References used for article:

Washington State Department of Health. Medical Marijuana. Retrieved from

Washington State Legislature. WAC 246-75-010: Medical marijuana. Retrieved from