Court limits medical marijuana law

November 22, 2006

Rachel La Corte, Associated Press

OLYMPIA -- A voter-approved initiative allowing doctors to recommend medicinal marijuana does not apply to cases where the doctor is licensed outside the state of Washington, the Washington Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. 'The initiative could have, but did not, define a qualifying doctor as one with a valid license from any state,' Justice Tom Chambers wrote in the 6-3 majority decision. Initiative 692 passed in 1998 with 59 percent of the vote. It gives doctors the right to recommend -- but not prescribe -- marijuana for people suffering from cancer, AIDS, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma and other conditions that cause 'intractable pain.' Marijuana is still illegal to buy and sell. It's listed in the same class of drugs as heroin and LSD. Possession of marijuana is allowed under I-692, but state law does not say how people can obtain it. In its decision, the high court affirmed a Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the conviction of Sharon Tracy, who had been charged with possession and manufacture of marijuana. Tracy suffers from a hip deformity and migraine headaches and has had a series of corrective surgeries following a ruptured colon and bowel conditions, according to court records. She was arrested in May 2003 after police arrived at her home to investigate a domestic violence complaint. While there, police smelled marijuana. After returning with a search warrant, they found slightly more than an ounce of marijuana, four marijuana plants and a California medical marijuana card. A few months after the arrest, she obtained another medical card from a doctor in Portland, the closest large city across the border from her home in Stevenson, Wash. The judge at her trial in Skamania County would not let her use the compassionate use defense allowed under I-692, because she was not found to be a 'qualified' candidate because the card in her possession at the time of her arrest was not issued by a doctor who was formally licensed to practice medicine in Washington state. The trial court entered a finding that the authorization received by the Oregon doctor met Washington's requirements but it was not able to be used in court because the card was received after her arrest, Tracy's attorney said. Tracy, 53, has been living in Hayward, Calif., since 2004 to care for her elderly mother. Her attorney, David Schultz, said that at the time of her arrest, she was traveling back and forth between the two states because of her family situation, which is why she got the card from California in the first place. Schultz said his client, who had not served any jail time pending the appeal, now faces as long as 90 days in jail. He said he hasn't yet decided whether to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court but said Tracy should not be in jail.

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