Washington Medical Marijuana

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What is Medical Marijuana in Washington?

In Washington, the Medical Cannabis State Law – chapter 69.51A RCW allows medical cannabis dispensaries to sell marijuana to card-carrying patients. These patients use cannabis to treat various debilitating physical and health conditions and the symptoms they present. Some of the health conditions eligible for marijuana treatment include cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, glaucoma, or spasticity disorders.

Scientists have found that Delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) effectively relieve many difficult health symptoms. THC and CBD are just two of the many cannabinoids in the cannabis plant. Studies have shown that medical cannabis use can reduce pain, nausea, dizziness, muscle spasms, insomnia, depression, and other symptoms. In Washington, patients that qualify for medical marijuana cards must get them from the Department of Health.

Is Medical Marijuana Legal in Washington?

Yes. Medicinal marijuana in Washington became legal in 1998 when state voters passed Initiative 692 (I-692), also called the Medical Use of Marijuana Act. I-692 permitted Washington residents suffering from certain debilitating conditions, intractable pain, and terminal illnesses to use medical grade marijuana for the treatment of such conditions. The Department of Health oversees the state's medical marijuana program. Registered medical marijuana patients can possess up to 3 ounces of cannabis, 48 ounces of infused medical marijuana products in solid form, 1.69 gallons of infused products in liquid form, and 21 grams of medical marijuana concentrate.

Who Can Get Medical Marijuana in Washington?

Medical marijuana in Washington is available to residents diagnosed with qualifying medical conditions who have obtained medical marijuana authorizations from their healthcare providers. The qualifying medical conditions approved by the state's Department of Health for medical marijuana are:

  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Crohn's disease
  • Hepatitis C
  • Anorexia
  • Muscle spasms
  • Cachexia
  • Seizures
  • Glaucoma
  • Intractable pain unrelieved by conventional treatment or medications
  • Cancer
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Epilepsy
  • Spasticity disorders
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
  • Chronic renal failure requiring hemodialysis
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Can You Grow Medical Marijuana in Washington?

Caregivers and medical marijuana patients registered in the medical marijuana database can grow up to 6 marijuana plants at home. However, upon request and approval, the Department of Health permits healthcare practitioners to authorize patients to grow up to 15 plants in specific circumstances. Patients who have not registered in the Washington medical marijuana database but have obtained approvals from qualified health care practitioners may grow up to 4 plants at home.

Homegrown marijuana must be cultivated in closed spaces which are locked and inaccessible to minors. Appropriate measures must also be taken to ensure that the odor from the grow areas is mitigated.

Do You Need to See a Doctor to Get Medical Marijuana in Washington?

Yes. Before a patient can legally use medical marijuana in Washington, the patient must complete registration and be listed in the medical marijuana database. However, Washington medical marijuana database registration cannot be completed until an applicant obtains a medical marijuana authorization from a healthcare practitioner.

Note that not all healthcare practitioners can issue medical marijuana authorizations. Under the medical marijuana program, a bona fide physician-patient relationship must exist between the healthcare practitioner and the applicant before an authorization may be valid. Other requirements for healthcare practitioners are contained on the healthcare practitioner information page on the Department of Health Website.

The following categories of health care practitioners are permitted to issue medical cannabis authorizations in Washington:

  • Medical doctor
  • Physician assistant
  • Osteopathic physician
  • Osteopathic physician assistant
  • Naturopathic physician
  • Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner (ARPN)

Washington law does not require healthcare practitioners to register or report to the state before qualifying to issue medical marijuana authorizations. Hence, the Washington Department of Health does not maintain a list of healthcare practitioners who may issue medical marijuana authorizations.

Can a Minor Get a Medical Marijuana Card in Washington?

Yes, in accordance with RCW 69.51A.030, healthcare practitioners may authorize patients to use medical marijuana regardless of age, provided such persons suffer from any of the approved medical conditions. Minors must designate caregivers who must consent to help them purchase and administer medical marijuana. Caregivers for minor patients must be their parents or legal guardians.

How to Apply for a Medical Marijuana Card in Washington

To obtain a medical marijuana card in Washington, follow these steps:

  • Schedule an appointment with a healthcare practitioner: During the healthcare visit, the practitioner will verify that you have any qualifying condition that may benefit from medical marijuana use. Upon examination and approval, you will be issued a medical marijuana authorization. If you are under the age of 18, the attending healthcare practitioner must sign and issue two medical marijuana authorizations and have your caregiver sign both authorizations on your behalf
  • Visit a medically endorsed retail store: Here, a certified consultant will:
  • Review the medical marijuana authorization for completeness
  • Enter the patient's information in the Washington medical marijuana authorization database
  • Generate and print the medical marijuana card for the patient

Note that registration for inclusion in the medical marijuana database is optional for patients aged 18 and older but required for patients under 18 and their caregivers. If you are between the ages of 18 and 20, you must register and have a medical card issued by a medically-endorsed store. At the store, you must pay a minimum of $1 for the medical marijuana card. The store will remit the fee to the Washington State Department of Health.

Does Washington Allow Medical Marijuana Patients to Designate Caregivers?

Yes. Washington's medical marijuana laws allow caregivers to assist minors or incapacitated adults in obtaining and administering medical marijuana. Commonly referred to as designated providers in Washington, caregivers are individuals who have consented to help registered medical marijuana patients purchase, grow, and provide medical marijuana. A patient who requires a caregiver must find a person who will agree to be designated as the caregiver.

To be eligible to become a medical marijuana caregiver in Washington, an individual must be aged 21 or older, free of past drug-related convictions, and reside in the State of Washington. Proof of residency will be required in the form of a valid state-issued driver's license or state ID card. A caregiver must also be listed on the associated patient's medical marijuana authorization form. The caregiver's information must be entered into the medical marijuana database, and the person must be issued a designated provider recognition card. An individual can only serve as a caregiver for one patient at a time.

What Is the Cost of a Washington Medical Marijuana Card?

An adult patient who enrolls in the medical marijuana registry must pay $1 for a medical marijuana card. Although RCW 69.51A.230 (10) permits a retail store to charge more than $1 for a medical marijuana card, typical fees charged by medically-endorsed stores are between $1 and $10. Note that the healthcare practitioner issuing medical marijuana authorization will charge a fee during the visit to their medical office. As insurance companies do not cover medical cannabis, a patient participating in the medical marijuana program may be responsible for the consultation fee at the appointment with the healthcare provider. Typical fees for consultation range between $50 and $200.

What Do You Need When Visiting a Medical Marijuana Dispensary in Washington?

Adult (aged 18 or older) patients only have to present their medical marijuana authorizations and valid identification cards to purchase medical marijuana because registering in the Washington medical marijuana database and obtaining medical marijuana cards are optional steps for them. However, caregivers for minor patients must present medical marijuana cards, two medical marijuana authorizations (for the patient and the caregiver), and valid identification cards to purchase medical marijuana from medically-endorsed retail stores in Washington.

How to Renew Your Washington Medical Marijuana Card

A Washington medical marijuana card shares the same expiration date with the cardholder's medical marijuana authorization. To renew a medical marijuana card, the cardholder must first renew the medical marijuana authorization by scheduling an appointment with the issuing healthcare practitioner. Upon obtaining a renewal for the authorization, an appointment may be scheduled with a certified consultant at a medically-endorsed retail store to obtain a new medical marijuana card.

Washington, through RCW 69.51A.030, also provides for a compassionate care renewal for patients looking to renew their medical marijuana authorizations. After a patient's initial in-person physical examination and visit to a healthcare practitioner to obtain medical marijuana authorization, the healthcare provider may indicate that the patient is eligible for a compassionate care renewal if an in-person visit would cause the patient severe hardship. A patient's medical marijuana authorization may be renewed via telemedicine in a compassionate care renewal.

Is it Possible to Overdose on Cannabis in Washington?

An overdose occurs when a person consumes more of a particular substance than their body can process at once. Overdoses can lead to dire consequences, including brain damage and death. Cannabis overdoses, however, are rarely fatal. In most cases, cannabis overdoses produce more severe versions of the drug's common effects. Also, the amount needed to reach the overdose level varies between individuals.

Typically, symptoms of a drug overdose include breathing problems or seizures that may lead to death. However, the symptoms of a marijuana overdose include:

  • Racing heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Psychosis
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Although the chances of a lethal overdose are low, there are also situational risks attached to a marijuana overdose. Cannabis affects individuals differently, and a person with an underlying medical condition could develop health complications from a marijuana overdose. Similarly, if a person overdosed on marijuana while driving or operating machinery, they could cause a fatal accident. Also, if a person overdoses on marijuana while using other drugs (including alcohol), the interaction of substances could lead to more dangerous effects.

If I am Pregnant, Can I Use Cannabis to Relieve Nausea in Washington?

Most pregnant women experience nausea in their first and second trimesters. Also known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum, nausea is a discomfiting sensation in the stomach that precedes vomiting. Although easy to deal with in the short term, long-term bouts of nausea can be very debilitating. For a pregnant woman who has to nourish an infant, the difficulty is worse. Many women use cannabis to deal with nausea during pregnancy. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, between 2-5% of pregnant women use medical marijuana. While cannabis can help treat nausea, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention claims that it is harmful to the fetus. Some possible dangers to the fetus include:

  • Prenatal brain development disruption;
  • Smaller size at birth
  • Higher chances of stillbirth
  • Higher chance of premature birth;
  • Secondhand marijuana smoke dangers;
  • Attention deficit disorder and behavioral problems in childhood.

According to the CDC, cannabis use during pregnancy is harmful to both mother and child. Some of the dangers to the mother include:

  • Dizziness and the risk of falling;
  • Impaired judgment and the risk of injury;
  • Lower levels of oxygen in the body - causing breathing problems;
  • Lung damage (if the patient is smoking).

In Washington, the Department of Health does not allow pregnant women to treat nausea with medical cannabis.

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