Frequently Asked Questions - Cannabis Patient Protection Act (SB 5052)

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.

Up to four patients can join together to form a cooperative garden. Patients and providers who participate in a cooperative may grow plants and possess medicinal cannabis based upon medical necessity (up to sixty plants and 72 ounces of useable marijuana). This is particularly important to patients who live in areas where there is no dispensary where they can purchase medicinal cannabis.

In addition, LCB will award licenses to medical marijuana dispensaries who meet reasonable criteria, some of which includes 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 excellent medical cannabis expertise that has developed in our state and recognize the businesses that have a record of providing patients with quality advice and products. Retail applicants who receive a license may opt to sell recreational marijuana, only medical marijuana 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 who do not register? 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 HIPPA.

All patients will still be required to get a recommendation from their doctor and all patients will still be allowed to purchase medicinal marijuana at a licensed dispensary.

Patients who choose not to register can purchase up to one ounce, grow up to four plants, and possess 6 ounces of cannabis. 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 cannabis, central to Initiative 692, passed by the voters in 1998.

Patients who do choose to register can purchase up to three ounces of medical marijuana, grow up to 15 plants based upon medical necessity, and depending on the subsequent legislation still pending (HB 2136 or SB 6062), 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 authorization 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?

We need to create a system that works for patients. The bill stills requires additional work, but the Act's beneficial changes (in addition to those above) include: 

  • It covers post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries for the first time;
  • It creates a medical endorsement for retailers that carry medical cannabis products and provides training for retail staff – patients can be confident they are purchasing from knowledgeable sellers;
  • It ensures safe products for patients and safe handling in stores;
  • It requires a study and recommendations on whether the state should create medical cannabis specialty clinics;
  • It 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 databank;  
  • It directs the Dept. of Health to create an easy form for doctors and other authorized health care providers to use when recommending medicinal cannabis products in addition to completing an in-person exam and documenting the conditions, just like any other situation in which any health care provider prescribes medicine to patients. Some believe the authorization form poses a problem under federal law, 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.

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.

Which parts of the bill did the governor veto? 

Gov. Inslee vetoed Sections 36, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46, and 52. Full veto letter here.

What’s left to do?

While this bill takes a tremendous step forward, a large volume remains of unfinished work on marijuana tax policy, enforcement, local revenue sharing and funding for public health prevention programs. Gov. Inslee strongly supports efforts to address these items this year — and he has called on legislators to finish the job and provide the tools necessary to ensure a well-regulated and functioning marijuana market in our state. As Gov. Inslee said, to the extent further changes may be necessary to ensure a patient-focused, well run medical marijuana system, we’ll be able to do that in future legislative sessions.