Patients With Out-Of-State Medi-Pot Docs Not Protected Under State’s Marijuana Law, Washington Supreme Court Rules

Olympia, WA: Washington’s Supreme Court ruled 6-3 last week that patients who possess a recommendation to use medical cannabis from an out-of-state doctor may not be afforded legal protections under the state’s eight-year-old medical marijuana law.

The decision upheld a lower court ruling convicting defendant Sharon Tracy on marijuana possession and manufacturing charges. Tracy was arrested in 2003 after police seized her California doctor’s recommendation, four marijuana plants, and an ounce of marijuana from her home. Tracy had previously lived in California to take care of her terminally ill mother before returning to Washington in 2003.

Writing for the majority, Justice Tom Chambers opined, “[Although] Tracy may have been exactly the kind of patient the voters of this state had in mind when they enacted the medical marijuana initiative, I-692, in 1999, … only qualifying patients are entitled to use the defense.” The Court determined that ‘qualifying patients’ are defined under the law as only those patients who have been authorized to use medical cannabis by an in-state physician.

“The initiative could have, but did not, define a qualifying doctor as one with a valid license from any state,” Chambers wrote.

In his dissent, Justice James Johnson argued that Washington voters clearly intended for citizens like Tracy to be protected under state law. “Initiatives susceptible to reasonable alternative interpretations, such as I-692, are to be construed in order to effectuate the intent of the electorate,” he wrote. “The majority offers no persuasive rational for holding that the people of Washington understood, let alone intended, that an otherwise qualified patient would be excluded from protection by I-692 simply because the patient’s treating physician was licensed in [a state other] than Washington.”

Tracy may be sentenced to up to 90 days in jail for violating the state’s marijuana laws.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup, NORML Legal Counsel, at (202) 483-5500. A discussion of this decision is available online on the November 27, 2006 edition of NORML’s daily AudioStash. Opinions in the case, State v. Tracy, are available online at: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/index.cfm?fa=opinions.recent.