Politics One Toke Over State Lines
posted by November 22 at 15:40 PMon
This morning, the Washington Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s criminal conviction of a woman who used medical marijuana to treat chronic pain. Unlike the slew of medical marijuana stories that have splashed across news pages in recent months, this case is different.
The debate wasn’t about whether medical marijuana is a legitimate therapy; it wasn’t about federal law trumping state law; and it wasn’t about the quantity of marijuana a patient may grow or possess. It was about a technical glitch in Washington’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act, created by Initiative 692, which was passed by voters in 1998. The Justices wrote in their majority opinion:
The initiative could have, but did not, define a qualifying doctor as one with a valid license from any state. Instead, it defined qualifying doctors as those licensed under Washington law. This was a deliberate choice, and Tracy gives us no statutory reason to find that the language does not mean what it appears to say.
Only qualifying patients are entitled to the defense under the act. … Among other things, qualifying patients must be patients of qualifying doctors. … Since Tracy was not a patient of a qualifying doctor, she is not entitled to assert the defense.
The problem began when Tracy visited California to care for her mother who suffers from cancer. While she was there, a California-licensed doctor gave her an authorization to treat her pain symptoms with marijuana.
But just as Thanksgiving travelers probably aren’t thinking twice about using their prescription medications while visiting other states, Tracy probably didn’t think twice about whether her doctor’s authorization was good in Washington. After all, she had a recommendation from a doctor, as specified by state law.
But the devil is in the details. Washington’s High Court cited a clause in the medical marijuana act that defines a “qualifying physician” by referring to a completely different statute. Basically, the Supremes held, since the doctor was from out of state, the authorization was bunk.
Fortunately, the problem can be easily patched by the Washington legislature during their upcoming session. “We are working with lawmakers to develop legislation that would carry out the voters’ intent to protect sick people who are using medical marijuana therapy under a doctor’s supervision,” said the ACLU of Washington’s Legislative Director Jennifer Shaw. The Olympia session begins on January 8th.