Washington State Medical Marijuana

I renewed my medical marijuana card the other day. That might seem odd in a legal state, but I can explain. First, here’s an overview of the medical marijuana program in Washington.

The voters passed I-692 in 1998 to enable a basic medical marijuana program. Similar to others already passed, “caregivers” could grow a small number of plants to supply their “patients” for money to cover the grower’s costs. Both parties would need to be registered with the Board of Health, and patients would require a doctor’s “advice” to use marijuana. As was typical then, the law was loose, vague, and subject to interpretation. Slowly the program evolved to include “collectives” and “dispensaries”, essentially larger-scale grows and storefronts. The patient count expanded quickly as many medical professionals could issue advice, likely for a tiny fee for a brief “examination”. The looseness of the law led to an explosion in marijuana businesses with no regulation.

In 2011, Senate Bill 5073 was written to reign in the program a bit, to impose more stringent rules and regulations. It passed the legislature and was sent to Governor Christine Gregoire’s desk for final signature.

Before she signed it into law, US Attorney Jenny Durkan wrote a letter to the governor threatening federal action under the controlled substance law against the governor and any state employee involved in implementing the law. The Cole Memo hadn’t been issued yet. Gregoire buckled and vetoed the bill, which guaranteed that none of the reforms would happen. Jenny Durkan is now the mayor of Seattle. (She is currently a political target of the moron).

That prompted Initiative 502 in 2012 to fully legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in the state. I-502 had a provision that allowed the medical marijuana program, as weak as it was, to continue. The thinking was that caregivers would get a “502” license to grow, patients wouldn’t have to pay sales tax on their purchases, and dispensaries would get a retail license.

The high costs of retail marijuana under 502 offered no incentive for existing medical caregivers and patients to switch to the new taxed and regulated regime. The legislature attacked this problem by tightening up the medical program wherever they could, but not by just eliminating it. There was a political price to be paid for “taking away medicine from sick people”. Customers in the 502 system migrated to the new way, and dropped their medical authorizations. The medical system is very small nowadays, but still functions here and there, though with very limited legal protection.

To get a medical card in WA one needs a doctor’s recommendation. I asked at my neighborhood pot shop for a reference to such a doctor and was sent to a Naturopathic Doctor in town. My visit cost $140, lasted about 30 minutes, and I found it to be quite informative. She authorized me as a caregiver able to grow 15 plants as well as purchase cannabis without sales tax. It’s easy to find a doctor at festivals and concerts for about $50 and it only takes a few minutes. I went back to the shop with my paperwork and got a card, free except I tipped them $5.

With my card I can:

Purchase up to 3 ounces of cannabis flower at one time. One ounce is the legal standard in WA.

Avoid the 10% sales tax, but must pay the 27% marijuana tax.

Store 16 ounces in my home.

Grow 15 plants. Homegrowing under 502 in WA is illegal.

Now, the ability to purchase 3 ounces at one time isn’t worth much if you can grab an eighth ounce whenever you want it by taking a 5 minute drive. And I have no idea what I would do with a pound of marijuana as it deteriorates quickly. I have no land, so no place to grow a single plant. I have no patients to reimburse my growing costs even if I had the space.

I have two reasons to have a medical card when I don’t need it. The first is that it is a way to buy rights from the state which gives me more privilege than other people. I think that this is an absurd proposition. Given that the state “sells” certain rights to some and arrests the rest for the same behavior has always been my objection to medical marijuana laws in the first place.

The medical card gives me “standing” to comment on the subject, specifically to law makers and enforcers. Which I do. My goal is to make legal marijuana legal, everyone gets the same rights to grow, process, sell, and consume.

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