Written by attorney Kathryn M. Silk

How Medical Marijuana Can Land you in Jail

Many people believe that obtaining a medical marijuana card is their ticket to staying out of jail. They go to their doctor, who prescribes medical marijuana, get their “green card"; the little card that proves they have a lawful prescription, and think “I am good to go!"

Unfortunately, those people are wrong.

You can still be charged and convicted with a whole smattering of crimes stemming from marijuana use even when you have with a prescription. Driving Under the Influence, for one.

Often, individuals forget that Driving Under the Influence means under the influence of anything, prescription drugs included. Alcohol and prescription pain killers are legal, but is still unlawful to be under the influence of either and operate a motor vehicle. The same holds true for marijuana.

Worse, DUIs are just the tip of the iceberg. Even if you are careful about driving, you could still be charged and convicted of marijuana possession or possession of drug paraphernalia. These charges can also bring serious consequences: landing up in jail, hundreds of dollars in fines, facing the possibility of probation, ineligibility for financial aid like student loans, and losing your driver’s license if you are less than 21 years old.

How is this possible? Well, when you go in for your prescription, your doctor has to determine whether you have a “qualifying condition" under the statue. But here’s the problem: even though your doctor says you have a qualifying condition, the court does not have to accept your doctor’s conclusion. It is up to you (or your attorney) to prove it in court if you get charged with a crime.

This means that even where the unsuspecting patient believes what their doctor tells them regarding their diagnosis and treatment; it is going to be on their shoulders to show their doctor’s opinion was right.

What is a qualifying condition? RCW 69.51A.010 defines what conditions are covered by the Medical Use of Cannabis Act, they include:

  • Cancer, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other seizure disorder, or spasticity disorders;

  • Intractable pain, meaning pain unrelieved by standard medical treatments and medications;

  • Glaucoma, either acute or chronic, meaning increased intraocular pressure unrelieved by standard treatments and medications;

  • Crohn’s disease with debilitating symptoms unrelieved by standard treatments or medications;

  • Hepatitis C with debilitating nausea or intractable pain unrelieved by standard treatments or medications; and

  • Diseases, including anorexia, which result in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, seizures, muscle spasms, or spasticity, when these symptoms are unrelieved by standard treatments or medications.

So, you have one of these conditions, your doctor agrees, you are careful not to smoke and drive… but then you get busted. What happens next? Even where you show proof of your prescription the unfortunate answer is often law enforcement telling you to “take it up with the judge" before they put you in a jail cell.

You will need to be prepared to fight these charges; and that means time, effort, money, and a lot of work. For example, you may need to provide your medical records, doctor’s recommendations, and even a second opinion from another doctor. Again, it will be on you to show that your doctor was right, regardless of whether or not you were just following doctor’s orders.

I support medical marijuana; but I also believe it is important for those seeking its benefits to understand the consequences of its use. If you use it be careful, or you may find yourself behind bars.

Additional resources provided by the author

For more on Medical Marijuana in Washington State visit the ACLU guide at:

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