Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes offered his stance on the state's medical marijuana system in a memo released Monday. In the memo, he pushed the legislature to fold medical marijuana into the state's recreational system. He also clarified that, before that occurs, unlicensed medical marijuana businesses were in violation of state law.
Presently, the recreational and medical marijuana industries in Washington are regulated in very different ways. The Washington State Liquor Control Board heavily regulates recreational marijuana. The Control Board licenses retailers who may sell marijuana and products derived from it.
Those retailers that operate without a license from the Control Board are in violation of Washington law.
On the other hand, medical marijuana remains highly unregulated. Those with a recommendation from a physician that they have a condition that may be aided by medical marijuana still technically violate the law.
If someone with a recommendation is charged with possession of marijuana, they do have an affirmative defense against criminal charges if the amount they are in possession of does not exceed the amount that the law allows.
An affirmative defense is a set of facts that, when established by the defendant, relieves them of the consequences of their actions, despite those actions being otherwise unlawful.
Patients with recommendations may either grow the plants themselves or designate someone to do it for them. Those they have designated to grow for them also have an affirmative defense if prosecuted. Those designated to grow for a patient may only grow for one person at a time.
Holmes statement Monday reflects a trend in and around Seattle where retailers unlicensed by the Liquor Control Board have begun selling commercially to those with medical-marijuana recommendations. It follows an appellate court case from March that made the same observation.
Often known as collective gardens, these medical marijuana dispensaries are generally unlicensed. To Holmes and the Court of Appeals, they are illegal.
Holmes's memo suggests a way to eliminate this inconsistency. He asks the legislature to fold medical marijuana into the better-regulated recreational system. He also pushes for marijuana lounges where users could consume weed on site.
In his position as City Attorney, Holmes only handles the civil enforcement against these illegal operations. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg, whose office is currently prosecuting the owner of several medical-marijuana businesses, handles felony criminal charges.
It seems obvious that Washington still has kinks to work out with marijuana legalization. Until those wrinkles are ironed out, those with medical recommendations should be careful about from whom they get their marijuana.
If you are charged with possession despite having a doctor's recommendation, you will need an experienced attorney to protect your rights. Attorney Steve Karimi has years of experience defending those charged with drug crimes. If you have been charged in and around Seattle, do not hesitate to contact him for a free consultation.