Article – Washington: Medical cannabis patients win protection from arrest

Competing legislation had muddied water and makes life hard for self grow medical cannabis patients… hopefully new legislation make life easier for medical patients in more conservative counties


Medical cannabis patients with proper authorization can grow up to four plants in Washington state. If they sign up for the state’s medical cannabis registry, that number grows to 15. Patients also are allowed to possess a larger amount of cannabis than people without a licence.

Nevertheless, until the governor signs House Bill (HB) 1563, which passed both chambers of the Legislature this year, some of those patients can also be arrested for exercising those privileges.  Patients who aren’t part of the state’s registry are subject to arrest in certain situations. Under the new law, any patient or designated provider who holds a valid medical authorization will not be subject to arrest. Patients have historically been protected by what is called an “affirmative defense,” which basically means that any charges brought against them will fail.

However, getting arrested is a pretty traumatic experience.

John Kingsbury, a medical cannabis patient who has spent decades advocating for patients’ rights in Washington, knows from experience. While not as famous as the Kettle Falls Five, a group of patients who were arrested for growing medical cannabis outside of Spokane in the early 2010s, Kingsbury has also been through it. As he sees it, arrest protection is long overdue.

“What the bill did was really modest. It basically said, ‘If you’re not breaking the law, then you can’t be arrested.’ It’s hard to imagine what’s more reasonable than that, right? That should have been from the get go, right? Innocent until proven guilty, that sort of thing,” he said.

While he’s never heard of a patient being arrested in King County, he said it was quite common in more conservative places like Grant, Pacific or Pierce counties. The people most commonly affected, he said, were typically chronically ill and low-income. Getting arrested, Kingsbury said, was actually the number one concern among patients that he surveyed, which surprised him.

“They felt like their patient status made them vulnerable. I thought for sure it would be the excise tax or ‘I’m having difficulty finding product’ or something like that,” he said.

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