Medical marijuana advocates win one, lose one in court

January 06, 2007

Amy Lynn Sorrel, American Medical News

Courts in Washington and California late last year handed medical marijuana users and their prescribing doctors a defeat and a victory, respectively.

The Washington Supreme Court in November clarified that a 1998 voter-approved measure allowing doctors to recommend medical marijuana does not apply when the physician is licensed outside of the state.

The Compassionate Use Act protects seriously ill patients from criminal prosecution when they use the drug with a doctor's recommendation. It established a state program that issues identification cards to qualified patients that they can present to law enforcement officials.

The statute defines qualifying patients as those who are treated by a Washington-licensed physician and who have been diagnosed by that doctor as having a terminal or debilitating medical condition, such as cancer, AIDS, glaucoma or other conditions that cause intractable pain.

Justices upheld the 2003 conviction of Sharon Lee Tracy for possessing cannabis, finding that she was not a qualified patient because her medical marijuana registry card was not authorized by a Washington-licensed doctor.

Tracy had a California card to use the drug, which a physician there recommended for her chronic pain from a hip deformity, migraine headaches and a series of corrective surgeries. She received the card in 2002 while she was in California taking care of her terminally ill mother and was arrested in 2003 in Washington, her home state.

"Tracy may have been exactly the kind of patient the voters of this state had in mind when they enacted the medical marijuana initiative ... but only qualifying patients are entitled to use the defense," Justice Tom Chambers wrote in the 6-1 opinion.

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