In 1998, the people of Washington passed the Medical Use of Marijuana Act (I-692) to enable patients to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, with their physician's recommendation. Yet 10 years later, police are still arresting some medical marijuana patients and caregivers. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the act said qualifying patients and caregivers may possess a "60-day supply" of marijuana but did not specify how much marijuana that actually means.
To address this situation, the 2007 Washington Legislature passed Senate Bill 6032, which added much-needed amendments to the law. The measure made clear that police do not need to confiscate and destroy patients' medical marijuana. It also directed the Washington Department of Health to define a presumptive "60-day supply" and to report to the legislature on options for providing patients access to medical marijuana.
On October 2, 2008, the Department of Health adopted a rule defining a "60-day supply" of medical marijuana. It specifies that a qualifying patient or designated provider "may possess a total of no more than twenty-four ounces of usable marijuana, and no more than fifteen plants." It makes no distinction between mature and immature plants.
Qualifying patients who need a larger supply of medical marijuana may present evidence in court to justify their need. The rule does not say what kind of evidence may be used to establish a qualifying patient's need. Patients who require more than 24 ounces of usable marijuana or 15 plants should consult with an attorney.
The new "60-day supply" rule is a step in the right direction for helping qualifying patients exercise their legal right to use medicinal marijuana. It provides much needed clarity that should improve law enforcement officers' ability to determine compliance with the law. This should lead to fewer arrests and confiscations of patients' medicine.
The next step needed to make the law work better is to address access to medical marijuana. The Health Department's report to the legislature, "Patient Access to Medical Marijuana in Washington State," describes the difficulties many patients face in trying to obtain medical marijuana, and presents possible options for providing an adequate, safe, consistent and secure source of medical marijuana. The ACLU will continue to work with legislators on the access issue to further improve Washington's medical marijuana law.