In the years since marijuana legalization passed, the medical marijuana program in Washington state has seen various changes in how the program itself functions.
Whether the changes are good or bad: You be the judge.
We’re going to take a look at the laws that govern possession limits, growing allowances, and all the ailments medical marijuana in Washington covers. In so doing, we will be recounting nearly 20 years of Washington history, taking a look into the state medical program and how it’s administered.
Initiative 692 — The WA Groundwork for MMJ
The state of Washington began their medical relationship with marijuana in 1998, adopting a ballot initiative that sought to provide a legal pathway to an alternative medicine at a time when cannabis study was even more limited than it is today. Even so, the state voters passed the measure with nearly 60% the vote.
As a measure of how comprehensive the policy writers had researched the effects of cannabis, the list of ailment medical marijuana covers in Washington clearly defines the conditions deemed debilitating. And they did it so well, so comprehensively, that the state has not had to remove anything from the list of qualifying conditions, often moving to expand as new research comes out.
And in an industry that is poised for so much change in the years to come (barring any federal intervention), one that has — on a national level — changed so much already, having that level of foresight is one of the many factors influencing the rapid changes in public opinion, where harm is weighed against benefit and where cannabis has found a valued therapeutic existence alongside humans. In fact, I-692 is titled “Medical Marijuana: A Statement for Compassion”. Within the four pages of text, the creators of the ballot measure outline the following in regard to the conditions and ailments medical marijuana covers in Washington.
The Conditions of I-692
In 1998, patients in Washington state were, for the first time, able to choose cannabis as a valid treatment for a variety of ailments. Patients could receive a recommendation from a valid Doctor or medical professional and, in turn, both the patient and the doctor were entitled to affirmative, defense, or an overriding documented reason for breaking the state law. The conditions included in are:
- Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Epilepsy, seizure disorders
- Spasticity disorders
- Intractable pain
The measure allows patients and doctors to submit a petition to add other debilitating conditions and ailments to the list, which has been done successfully on several occasions. Some additions include:
- Cachexia, or wasting associated with cancer or AIDS
- Anorexia, or wasting associated with anorexia
- Crohn’s disease
- Hepatitis C
- Nausea and vomiting
- Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
- Traumatic head injury
As you can tell, the list of conditions and ailments Washington medical marijuana covers are, indeed, debilitating. The measure goes on, allowing for a “60 day supply” to be provided by a “designated caregiver”, an admittedly vague precedent. Now that we know who qualifies for WA MMJ, how much they can possess, and where they can get their medicine from, let’s take a look at some of the other major points of Washington’s medical marijuana program and how it has changed.
The Cannabis Patient Protection Act
In the early spring of 2015, the Washington legislature passed an attempt to overhaul the medical industry, ultimately reconciling some of the program under the helm of the state recreational industry. For patients and business owners alike, some of these changes meant a quick pivot and others were around a year away. Beginning July 1st, 2016, Washington’s medical marijuana program went through several fundamental changes, at the expense of several of the dispensaries, medical growing facilities, and the patients with ailments that Washington medical marijuana covers. Let’s take a look at the changes:
Possession limits depend on how much info you give the state
In 1999, US attorney Kate Pflaumer of Washington diverged from the norm, signaling that legitimate medical marijuana patients should not be prosecuted for crimes related to the use and possession of their medicine. This freed up many to medicate as their conditions required, but the lack of clarity on possession (what is a 60 day supply? who can be a “designated caregiver”?) perpetuated legal confusion. Finally in 2011, when Senate Bill 5073 was passed, guidance was given to city and county governments and the populations within them regarding how much can be possessed by patients, including many of the additions to the conditions and ailments that Washington medical marijuana covers.
Under the 2011 ruling:
Up to 24 ounces of useable cannabis for any patient
Under the Cannabis Patient Protection Act
- Up to 48 ounces of marijuana-infused products in solid form (cannabutter, anyone?)
- Up to three ounces of useable marijuana
- Up to 216 ounces of infused marijuana product in liquid form
- or Up to 21 grams of marijuana concentrates
Patients do not pay sales taxes, but excise taxes — yes
The excise taxes placed on retail customers is at a rate of over 30%. For patients used to paying sales tax (less than 10%) under the 1998 ruling, this is an inordinate increase in tax rate, yet, ultimately, under the Cannabis Patient Protection Act this is the burden placed on patients.
Patients can grow their own, with certain limitations
Patients with certain ailments that Washington medical marijuana covers are allowed to grow between four and six plants at home or in a co-op under the 2015 ruling, but only if the patient has voluntarily registered in the state patient registry. Here’s how growing has changed
Under the 2011 ruling:
A patient could grow as many 15 plants and co-op grow up to 45 plants in a single facility, with up to 10 patients contributing.
Under the 2015 ruling:
If the patient voluntarily registers in the state patient registry, they can grow up to 15 plants; however, this is only in conditions of necessity. In most cases, patients are able to grow between four and six, depending on the doctor’s recommendation. This means that patients wanting to avoid registering for the state database will be coalesced into the same laws that apply to recreational patients — that is, no growing whatsoever.
In addition, co-op grows are now limited to a total of four patients, but they can now accommodate up to a total of 60 plants per co-op.
Washington Medical Marijuana – A Summary
The world of medical marijuana in Washington has been fundamentally transformed by the inclusion of stricter patient guidelines on possession and home growing. This comes with the additional and unavoidable increase in taxes paid for medicine and medicated products. And as much as I’d like to see the role of active registration in permitting home growing done away with, the list of debilitating conditions and ailments medical marijuana covers in Washington has grown in scope, trailing behind currently accepted research only a little.
As marijuana legalization has usurped the entire west coast, it will be interesting to see how each state maintains or adjusts their respective laws. The laws are, after all, both a reflection of the population in micro and the society as a whole, being voted-in and adjusted with information.
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