During its most recent session, the Washington Legislature added significantly to existing state law regarding the medical use of cannabis — “medical marijuana” in popular usage. With her veto pen, Gov. Christine Gregoire then struck down significant portions of the new law.
Those portions that survived will go into effect July 22. They are intended to clarify the purpose and provisions of the state’s position on the medical use of cannabis. Most significantly, the law confirms that patients with a terminal or debilitating illness — and their medical providers — shall not be arrested, prosecuted or subject to other criminal or civil consequences for their use of medical cannabis, so long as they operate within the confines of the law.
Under the new provisions, patients or their designated providers are allowed up to 15 cannabis plants or no more than 24 ounces of usable cannabis. Patients may have twice that amount if they are growing cannabis for themselves and also are the designated provider for another patient. Patients also may participate in collective gardens, though no more than 10 patients at a time may be involved.
Doctors can approve the use of medical cannabis but cannot prescribe it. Doctors can prescribe Marinol, a capsule that contains a synthetic version of THC, the most psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
Though the state law allows cities and counties to adopt their own laws pertaining to the production, processing or dispensing of cannabis within their jurisdictions, none in Clallam County has done so yet.
Clallam County Planning Director Steve Gray said Clallam County has no rules as to where a collective garden or dispensing location can be established.
Sequim City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the City of Sequim has three options when dealing with medical marijuana business license proposals: prohibit what’s in the law regarding dispensaries, adopt a moratorium on where dispensaries, if any, should go, or abstain from enforcing the law and make it the lowest priority.
Chris Hugo, city planning director, said in one week there were three inquiries about medical marijuana business licenses.
“We don’t have a listed use for cannabis dispensaries,” he said. “I’m not sure what we’d want to do with it … For some reason Sequim has gotten a lot of attention.”
Ritchie said the city can’t issue marijuana business licenses because statutes prevent the city from working with anyone doing something potentially illegal.
“Everybody agrees this is a very, very bad situation,” Ritchie said. “If medical marijuana is supposed to be OK, then there should be a way for people to grow their own.”
As for enforcement of the law, at a recent town hall meeting Clallam County Sheriff Bill Benedict called the new law “murky” and said his office takes a largely hands-off approach to the issue.
“We want a bright line,” he said. “Someone needs to tell us what to do.”
Sequim Police Chief Bill Dickinson said if a police officer suspects marijuana use, i.e. sees it in plain view or smells it, then the officer first will ask for a green card — an authorization to possess, grow and use marijuana.
“I don’t think this conflict is going to be resolved until the federal government is going to deal with it,” Dickinson said. “A potential solution would be for the federal government to treat it like every other drug and control it through doctors and pharmacies.”