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The King County Prosecutor's Office and medical marijuana
The King County Prosecutor’s Office position on collective gardens is very clear according to Deputy Chief of Staff Ian Goodhew.
Unless there is “evidence beyond a reasonable doubt” that a person is violating the state law, the prosecutor’s office will not pursue charges.
What’s not so clear to the prosecutor’s office, however, is what state law says.
A 2008 memo obtained from the prosecutor’s office provides an explanation of its stance on medical marijuana collective gardens.
“The law is extremely murky, as you can see from the memo,” Goodhew said in a telephone interview. “There have been multiple changes in which medical marijuana is to be used, who’s supposed to grow it, distribute it and how the police are supposed to treat medical marijuana.”
According to the memo, the prosecutor’s office will “decline to prosecute legitimate patients who qualify under the law if they reasonably adhere to the dictates of the statute.”
The memo, dated, Oct. 7, 2008, and revised on Aug. 22, 2011, was distributed to law enforcement agencies throughout King County.
“The official state policy on marijuana in Washington continues to be that qualifying patents or providers to patents may legally grow and possess a reasonable amount of marijuana for medical purposes,” the memo said. “Careful investigation by law enforcement is the only way to distinguish between those persons authorized to possess and distribute marijuana for medicinal purposes and those persons who are non-patients or selling the drug in illicit markets for the purpose of profit.”
Like many law enforcement and city officials, Goodhew said, the state’s Medical Cannabis Law has been a headache for them to understand.
“The problem is the law does a very poor job of spelling out for law enforcement and prosecutors who is legally allowed to possess grow and distribute medical marijuana and who’s not, and in particular who’s allowed to grow it and distribute it,” he said. “The original law didn’t say anything about how to distribute medical. Should the state do it? Should private citizens? All it said is a provider can provide it for a patient at any given time.”
Lack of specificity, he added, has created a lot of legal loopholes.
For example, under the state law, up to 10 people can run a collective garden together. But, the law doesn’t address how members join and leave or how it affects how they collect their portion of the medical marijuana grown.
“There’s no time restrictions on how many people can be in a collective garden and the issue of how many collective gardens can you have on one piece of property,” Goodhew said. “There’s no way for cities to regulate that. And the answer people want is for police officers to bust everybody. The problem is we can’t do that when the law gives a very good argument that the activity is legal. Prosecutors are very used to being told in black and white (what the law says).”
In an effort to inform local law enforcement agencies, the memo states that the Prosecutor’s Office will assist in any investigation regarding the violation of the Medical Cannabis Law.
The memo contains an Office Policy section, which includes various stances the KCPO has taken.
“The PAO does not intend to prosecute those individuals who are truly ill,” the memo states. “Our office will look with a very lenient eye towards those medically ill people who have reasonably tried but failed to have their medical marijuana paper work in order.”
The memo also states that they will not prosecute collective gardens, “as long as it is clear that qualifying patients are distributing to other qualifying patients and that those in the operation can produce the proper documentation.”