The Closing of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries in Federal Way, Washington


Medical marijuana has grown increasingly common in Washington State since a law was passed in 1998 making it legal under certain conditions. The closing of medical marijuana dispensaries in Federal Way Washington state had prompted many to rethink just how legal it is. The biggest issue that medical marijuana currently faces in Washington State is the interpretation of the laws surrounding it.
The Status of Medical Marijuana

Currently, medical marijuana is allowed in Washington State under a patient/provider framework. Each patient must get their doctors recommendation in order to become a recipient of medical marijuana. Each provider must have a patient that agrees to become their patient. They then must operate within the state laws for the amounts of medical marijuana that they can provide.

The Ambiguity

The problem with current statutes on medical marijuana is the ambiguity that one specific clause creates. This clause states that each provider can provide for “one patient at a time”. It does not designate exactly what “at a time” means. Many lawyers, providers, and patients have interpreted this to mean that you can only provide to one person at that instance in time. For example, you sell to one patient before you sell to another a minute later. Reading the law, this is an extremely fair interpretation of it.

Issues arise when we start to look at the way the other side interprets the same section. Federal Way police have decided in this one example that “one patient at a time” means that the provider may have only one patient total. Dispensaries in Federal Way are having issues because-among other reasons- interpreting this law can be performed in different manners. The closing of medical marijuana dispensaries in February of 2011 illustrates this dilemma.

Federal and State Status

Although the Obama administration decided in early 2011 that it would no longer prosecute medical marijuana dispensaries, states and municipalities can do so. In Washington State, areas that suffer severe gang problems have often chosen to do this because they are afraid that medical marijuana dispensaries could serve as a gateway for more gang violence.

Areas such as Tacoma have a record of crime and rising gang violence; municipalities are justifiably afraid that gangs could take over dispensaries-or target them. Because of the difficulty involved in starting a dispensary-and the strong chances of municipalities misinterpreting Washington State law- many dispensaries do not operate on a completely legal status in Washington State.

Current legislation places dispensaries in a legal grey area where they either cannot follow the law or are strongly impeded from doing so. In the town of Mount Lake Terrace, the municipality has decided that there will be no medical marijuana dispensaries.

The closing of medical marijuana dispensaries in Federal Way has a greater significance for Washington State as a whole. As more dispensaries start up, they are met with a double edged sword. If they operate according to the letter of the law, law enforcement agencies know of their existence and can use them as example cases.

If they choose to operate under the table, they are free from targeted persecution, but are operating illegally. Dispensaries are left with a choice then between operating illegally or becoming targets for vigilante law enforcement groups. The worst of it though, is where it leaves the patients. Medical marijuana had been legalized so that patients with no other option have something to ease their pain. Without a dispensary to buy from, they are left with no options.

Although many undoubtedly getting medical marijuana who do not strictly require it, it is not them that modern medicine seeks to serve .There will always be people willing to take advantage of medically prescribed Morphine or Vicadin-yet we still prescribe these drugs.

Modern science realizes that there are practical uses for these drugs as there is to medical marijuana. The best way to protect against illicit use of any drug is by better regulation and practice, not by outlawing it. Current lobbyist groups in Washington State seek to do just that by taking away the grey area. Although the closing of medical marijuana dispensaries has recently captured the public eye, it is merely an example of a broader problem.