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.