Becoming a Patient in Washington
Washington law provides a legal defense for the medical use and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana. A patient with a recommendation from a doctor may use this defense. Patients with recommendations should be cautious when medicating because police may still confiscate marijuana, arrest patients or providers, and charge patients and providers with crimes for actions associated with medical use. A patient can still be convicted of a misdemeanor for using marijuana in public. A patient may designate a provider to assist them in cultivating marijuana for medical purposes.
Up to twenty-four ounces of usable marijuana and fifteen plants are allowed between a patient and his or her designated provider for each sixty-day period. A patient may exceed these limits only if she or he can show medical need; if you need to go over with these limits, you must discuss it with your doctor in order to protect yourself.
Patients with the following conditions with a recommendation from a doctor may use the medical use defense:
- multiple sclerosis
- epilepsy and other seizure disorders
- spasticity disorders
When unrelieved by standard treatments or medications, these conditions or their symptoms may also be treated with marijuana:
- intractable pain (severe pain that is not easily dealt with)
- Crohn's disease
- Hepatitis C
- anorexia (lack of appetite)
- other diseases which result in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, seizures, muscle spasms, or spasticity
The Washington state medical quality assurance commission may also approve additional diseases and conditions for treatment with marijuana.
A doctor's recommendation is required for a patient to be protected by the Washington law; a copy of your medical records may not be used instead of a recommendation. A doctor licensed in Washington must write your recommendation on tamper-resistant paper. Your recommendation must also include an original signature by your doctor, the date, and a statement that says in your doctor's professional opinion, the potential benefits of the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the health risks in your case.
The language your doctor uses is important. Your doctor's recommendation must say that the benefits of using medical marijuana would likely outweigh the risks. Courts have refused to acknowledge as valid recommendations that said that the potential benefits "may" outweigh the health risks. (State v. Shepherd) Be sure that your doctor's recommendation contains the precise wording. We recommend using the Washington State Medical Association's form.
A doctor issuing a recommendation must be licensed in Washington. The following healthcare providers may issue a medical marijuana recommendation:
- medical doctors (MDs)
- physician assistants (PAs)
- osteopathic physicians (DOs)
- osteopathic physician assistants (OA)
- naturopathic physicians (ND)
- advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs)
Access/ Designated Providers/ Dispensaries
To acquire your medicine, you can grow marijuana yourself or designate a provider to grow medical marijuana for you. Your designated provider must be responsible for your housing, health, or care and you must designate in writing that this person will perform the duties of a provider. A designated provider can only be a provider for one patient at any one time and may not consume your medicine.
It is not legal to buy or sell medical marijuana in Washington. Dispensaries are not protected in Washington, even if they operate collectively and on a not-for-profit basis.
It is not legal to use or display medical marijuana in a place which is open to the view of the general public. Be discreet. If possible, only medicate at home and in a place that cannot easily be seen from a public street.
A person under the age of 18 may become a patient. The same restrictions that apply to adults apply to minor patients; e.g. do not medicate in public, do not possess more than 24 ounces and 15 plants. Producing, acquiring, and deciding the dosage and frequency of use is the responsibility of the parent or legal guardian of any patient under 18.
The state of Washington does not keep a registry of medical marijuana patients. Also, the doctor-patient privilege protects against the disclosure of sensitive information such as whether an individual has been recommended marijuana for medical use.
The law says nothing explicit about housing rights for patients or designated providers. However, the Washington medical marijuana law does say that if you meet the requirements of the law, then you "shall not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege, for such actions."
We believe this means that, under state law, a qualifying patient or caregiver may not lose their right to housing as a result of legally using or providing medical marijuana. Please remember, though, that while our belief that you are protected is based on our reading of the statute and case law, there is no existing Washington State case law that specifically addresses the (non-federally-funded) housing rights of patients.
If you live in housing funded by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Washington law will not protect you and you may be subject to eviction, as medical marijuana is not protected under federal law.
Unfortunately, Washington law does not offer explicit employment protections for patients. The law also does not require your employer to accommodate your use of marijuana in the workplace.
Washington's medical marijuana law specifically does not require a health insurance provider to reimbursement patients for their medicine.
Doctor recommendations, ID cards, and other documentation from other states do not provide legal protection in Washington. If you are not a resident of Washington, and you do not have a recommendation from a Washington healthcare provider, you are not considered a medical marijuana patient and may face criminal charges for possession, transportation, or cultivation.
For more information
Department of Health
PO Box 47866
Olympia, WA 98504-7866
http://www.doh.wa.gov/hsqa/medical-marijuana/ Washington Department of Health's medical marijuana website
http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=69.51A text of Washington's medical marijuana law
http://cdc.coop/ Cannabis Defense Coalition, a nonprofit member cooperative focused on marijuana activism in Washington State.
http://www.cannabismd.org medical and legal resources for patients, providers, physicians and law enforcement in Washington state
http://www.wsma.org/files/Downloads/PracticeResourceCenter/Med_Mari_authorization.pdf Washington State Medical Association's medical marijuana recommendation form.