Medical Marijuana Patients Suffering Police Harassment

By Steve Elliott

At a glance, I would appear to be a pretty average grandfather, enjoying his golden years.

But as I prepare to go to my grandson’s Blue and Gold dinner for his promotion from the Cub Scouts to the Boy Scouts, I’m struck by a glaring incongruity.

I could miss that Scout dinner — because I could, at any moment, be arrested and dragged off to jail.

Before you say in shocked tones, “Well, it’s pretty irresponsible of you to be breaking the law, especially at your age!”, let me quickly tell you:

I’m not breaking the law.

As a legal medical marijuana patient in the state of Washington – whose voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing medicinal pot 12 years ago – you might think I no longer have to worry about that fateful knock on the door.

Do you know what I mean? According to statistics, about half of you do.

It’s that knock when a police officer – who may be stopping by for some perfectly innocent reason – smells marijuana in your home, which gives him “probable cause” to search the place.

“But wait a minute,” you might say. “You just told me you were a legal medical marijuana patient. Doesn’t legal mean, well, legal?”

Unfortunately, no, it doesn’t.

Not in the state of Washington, when it comes to medical marijuana.

According to a recent Washington Supreme Court decision, police can get a search warrant, enter and search your home, arrest you, handcuff you and take you to jail, every time they smell pot – even if you are a legal patient carefully abiding by the rules put forth by the state.

Does that seem a little crazy to you? You’re not the only one.

When you consider that Washington’s medical marijuana law – one of the strictest in the nation, when it comes to “qualifying conditions” – requires that patients have a “terminal or debilitating illness” in order to be eligible, this isn’t just a crazy scenario.

It’s downright cruel.

In a state with severe budget difficulties – so bad that Gov. Christine Gregoire has been forced to slash budgets, shut down state parks, and discontinue programs designed to help the homeless – we are told that it’s perfectly OK and perfectly legal for police officers to spend public resources searching, harassing, and arresting sick and dying legal medical marijuana patients.

In what universe does this make sense? The one where ivory-tower supreme court justices are fluent in legalese, but maybe not so adept at interpreting plain English, and sussing out the will of the voters when they passed this law in 1998.

In an extremely narrow and legalistic interpretation of Washington’s medical marijuana law, the state Supreme Court said the law provides only an “affirmative defense” in court, and gives no protection at all from arrest, from search, and, let’s face it – in some rural counties, from infinite harassment.

Unfortunately, many law enforcement authorities, especially in rural Washington, just aren’t comfortable with marijuana, medical or not. They aren’t happy that pot was legalized for medical purposes, and they are suspicious of anyone who’d have anything to do with it.

Some police officers see the Supreme Court decision as a green light. Now they can, to their hearts’ content, harass medical marijuana patients endlessly. If, motivated by intolerance, revenge, you name it, they decide to arrest the same patient, over and over, because his or her home smells like marijuana? They get to do that, as many times as they’d like – with no legal repercussions.

Yes, it’s been 12 years since Washingtonians voted to legalize medical marijuana. For more than a decade, the people of Washington have mistakenly believed that protecting seriously ill medical marijuana patients from arrest and jail was a done deal.

That would be nice if it were true. But right now, instead of directing our dwindling energies on healing and being comfortable, every medical marijuana patient in Washington has to worry about being arrested.

Now, excuse me while I open the windows to air this place out. I’d hate to spend the night in jail, instead of going to my grandson’s Scout ceremony.

For those of us on the front lines, fearing arrest at every moment, medical marijuana still feels like a battle we have yet to win.

Editor’s Note:  Please follow Steve Elliott  on Twitter and Digg


7 Responses to Medical Marijuana Patients Suffering Police Harassment

  1. Rick Rosio February 20, 2010 at 8:29 am

    As the founder of Montana Pain Management it saddens me to see that people who are suffering chronic pain are still be harassed by some in law enforcement.
    There is a solution to this. Use the power of the vote to RECALL any public figure that supports banning medical cannabis .
    REMEMBER we have the power to vote and change ” those in power”
    Use the tools that are the foundation of our republic.

  2. Chet R Biggerstaff February 20, 2010 at 9:01 am

    Sounds like you were writing from the Tri-Cities WA as this is exactly what we face here from unscrupulus officials

  3. Jemma C February 20, 2010 at 12:00 pm

    Doesn’t Obama realize he is ultimately directly responsible for the continued persecution and targeting of LEGAL medical cannabis patients and their caregivers in the 14-legal states, as he apparently hasn’t kept his promise to end the federal interference of patients in the states that have VOTED for medical cannabis to be legal?

    If I had some type of expertise that the Canadian Govt or Canadian private sector needed, I’d be moving up there today. I really mean it.

    This tyrannical DEA-trampling of our liberty (most specifically the U.S. Constitution’s 10th Amend) is exactly why we had to fight for our own independence from another tyrannical government. The founders of our great country would be enraged at such blatant Govt abuses. What is it going to take to get the rogue DEA and their misguided, rogue police friends (who are violating their own state laws and the U.S. Constitution’s 10th) to stop persecuting people for following their physicians’ recommendations?

    I have never been more sickened by my Govt. I voted for Obama, but I never trusted that he’d follow through with any of his promises. If he continues to be complicit in this very real War on Patients and Medicine, I am going to work very hard to help remove him from office the next election.

    I am ashamed by our federal govt and terrified that we are sliding down a very slippery slope: If the DEA can deliberately subvert the U.S. Constitution and state medical cannabis laws, then the FEDS can undermine any state laws and destroy our delicate system of checks and balances.

    All this persecution over an ancient healing plant that has never killed from toxicity. It is unconscionable that Obama and Holder are sitting back and not lifting a finger to end this tyranny.

    • Ole Ole Olson February 20, 2010 at 3:26 pm

      If I’m not mistaken, one of Obama’s first executive orders was for the federal agencies to either not enforce MM laws, or to make them their lowest priority. I think this is more of a matter of him trying to compromise instead of standing strong for real reform by appointing the wrong people. Either way, I don’t think things are as bad as they were under Bush.

  4. Eloise February 20, 2010 at 1:38 pm

    I agree w/ part of your comment, Jemma-our Federal government needs to make a stronger statement (and continue to back it up), about not interfering w/ state laws regarding medical marijuana.
    But Mr. Elliot is not speaking of the DEA or Federal Supreme Court-he is speaking of the STATE Supreme Court and local or state police; state or local cops are a greater threat than the feds.
    There’s a lot of fear and political pressure on police-especially in small communities- to “keep it clean’ and not to let those “potheads” infect their community.
    Fear and ignorance are the real culprits here; people need to educate themselves and come out of the “Say No to Drugs” mindset. Helping people to understand that marijuana is a natural medical miracle plant and realizing the infinite potential of the cannabis plant for industry and the economy of this country is the first step to lifting the blinders of those who will not see.

  5. cynthia stebbins February 21, 2010 at 2:58 am

    This article really hits home. Since I recieved my . CA M M I DCard, the card that is supposed to help protect our rights from criminal charges.My husband and I have been pulled over by CHP on 3 different trips, each time they can smell pot eminating from the car is there reason for searching. Well of course we smell like unburnt marijuana, just as a cigarette smoker smells like cig. marijuana is worse because it is almost impossible for any person who uses it not to touch it and transfer the smell onto everything you touch, such as car handles. your clothes, your belongings. Two times we’ve had them use that card as an even better reason to search. It makes me not ever want to leave my house.

  6. Chet R Biggerstaff February 21, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Or if your in WA state you can join myself (Three Rivers Collective), Steve Sarich (Cannacare), and many other patients and involved individuals on the steps of the capitol in Olympia at noon on wed the 24th of Feb for a MMJ rally on their own steps. This is going to be a huge event with lots of press coverage. Come on down and get involved as they arent going to do it for us.

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