Medical Marijuana FAQ’s, Washington State

Medical Marijuana FAQ’s
Cannabis Patient Protection Act (SB 5052)
Effective July 24, 2015
Effective July 1, 2016

If a patient is in a collective garden right now or using a particular dispensary, how soon will the status change, and what will new dispensaries and cooperatives look like?

Access to medical marijuana for patients is a significant concern, whether they grow their own or purchase their medicine at a dispensary. The legislation allows cooperative gardens and requires the Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) to increase the maximum number of marijuana retail outlets.

Beginning July 1, 2016, up to four patients who are entered in the database can join together to form a cooperative garden. Patients and designated providers who participate in a cooperative may grow the total number of plants authorized for the participants. This is particularly important to patients who live in areas where there is no retail store where they can purchase medical marijuana.

In addition, LCB will award licenses to existing medical marijuana dispensaries who meet reasonable criteria, some of which includes being a collective garden operator who is 21 years or older, has maintained a business license, has a history of paying relevant taxes, has no criminal history and the premise is situated away from schools, playgrounds and other similar buildings. These criteria are intended to retain the expertise that has developed in our state and recognize the businesses that have a record of providing patients with quality products. Retail applicants who receive a license may opt to sell to the general public, only medical patients or both.

These changes go into effect on July 1, 2016. This provides sufficient time to transition to the new system with minimal disruption to patients.

What will the medical marijuana authorization database be like? Will there still be an affirmative defense for people are not entered in the database? Are there new criminal felonies?

The legislation establishes a completely voluntary medical marijuana authorization database. Privacy will be ensured at the highest possible level, and the database does not in any way violate HIPAA.

All patients will still be required to get an authorization from their health care practitioner. Authorizations will be required to be written on a standard form developed by the Department of Health. Designated providers must also receive an authorization from the patient’s health care practitioner.

Authorized patients who choose not to register can grow up to four plants and possess 6 ounces of marijuana from those plants. If age 21 or older, they can also purchase up to one ounce of marijuana at licensed retail stores. Qualifying patients who choose not to register will retain the right to present affirmative defense in court, as has been and will remain the law in our state. Affirmative defense was the foundation of legalizing medical marijuana, central to Initiative 692, passed by the voters in 1998.

Patients age 18 and older who do choose to register can grow up to 6 plants (or up to 15 plants if recommended by the health care practitioner). They can also purchase up to three ounces of marijuana at licensed retail stores with a medical endorsement. Depending on the subsequent legislation still pending (HB 2136 or SB 6062), they may be provided a sales tax exemption on their medical marijuana purchases.

It’s crucial that adult patients can weigh the factors of privacy, cost and convenience, and make the choice that’s best for them about whether or not to register.

Gov. Inslee vetoed and thus eliminated two of the new felonies. The Act eliminated another felony and only created one for improperly accessing the database and another for creating a false recognition card.

What improvements does the Act make for patients’ health? What new conditions are now covered under the Act? How will my doctor provide me an authorization?

The Act’s changes (in addition to those above) include:

Adds post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury as qualifying conditions;

Creates a medical endorsement for retailers that carry medical marijuana products and provides training for retail staff – patients can be confident they are purchasing from knowledgeable sellers;

Ensures safe products for patients and safe handling in stores;

Requires a study and recommendations to the Legislature on whether the state should create medical marijuana specialty clinics;

Provides certainty for practitioners with a statement that they cannot be arrested, prosecuted or disciplined as long as he or she complies with the law. The final legislation does not require practitioners to enter patients into the voluntary database;

Directs the Dept. of Health to create a standard form for health care practitioners to use when authorizing the medical use of marijuana, in addition to completing an in-person exam and documenting the conditions, similar to any other situation in which a health care practitioner prescribes medicine to patients. Some believe the authorization form could pose a problem under federal law because the practitioner has the option of recommending more plants than the presumptive amount, but it will not. The US Court of Appeals upheld a health care practitioner’s right to discuss and recommend marijuana to a patient within the confines of a bona fide patient/practitioner relationship.

What is covered under the emergency section, and what will not go into effect until July 1, 2016?

The legislation included an emergency clause that applies to only a few sections of the bill to allow the Department of Health and LCB to begin some of its work immediately, but patients won’t see any change immediately, until well into next year – by July 1, 2016 when the new licenses will become effective and the database will be operational.

The emergency clause does allow LCB to inspect dispensaries and other locations. This was not included to put any current dispensary or collective garden out of business, but to ensure that they are using reasonable standards and especially that they are not selling to minors. We know there are many quality dispensaries offering assistance to patients, and these stores are not the focus. The emergency clause also prohibits patients under the age of 21 from participating in a collective garden (dispensary). However, the patient’s designated provider can participate on the patient’s behalf.

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