Possession of under 40 grams of marijuana for personal use qualifies as a misdemeanor offense in Washington. Beyond that, possession of other illegal drugs, no matter how small the quantity, is a felony offense in Washington. This can include the possession of otherwise lawful prescription drugs, if the prescription is not made out in your name.
The consequences of a drug conviction can be quite drastic. Beyond the basic effects of a criminal charge or conviction, a drug conviction in particular can cause a loss of your drivers license (even if no vehicle was involved in your charge), the loss of housing rights, or the loss of your ability to obtain federal student loans. Along with the criminal consequences of drug possession and distribution, you can face the loss of real and personal property, through a process known as “civil forfeiture.” If law enforcement has reason to believe your home, land, or personal property (including vehicles) was used in the context of drug possession, cultivation, manufacturing, or distribution of drugs.
Since the 1980’s, several courts in the U.S. began an experiment with “drug courts” – where the court process was hoped to reduce drug use and recidivism. The program targets non-violent drug offenders whose legal charges stem primarily from addiction. If a defendant is given an opportunity to “opt-in” to a drug court in Washington, he or she is obligated to participate in a substantial drug treatment program, often fully funded by the drug court program. Frequent urinalysis tests are required, and status hearings with the drug court judge are important. The focus of the court proceedings are much more supportive, encouraging, and directive than a standard criminal court proceeding. Some drug courts require participants to maintain pay court fees, keep up with child support, and maintain approved housing. If the defendant keeps up with all court-ordered obligations and treatment requirements, the charge is dismissed.
“Medical use” defenses: Use of marijuana can be justified under state law in Washington in some medically-related circumstances. This is an “affirmative” defense, meaning that the State can still file charges against you, but you can defend yourself by raising this issue. In 1998, an initiative was enacted by Washington voters, which allows doctors to legally recommend medical marijuana to patients with certain medical conditions. The law allows for possession of a “60-day” supply of medical marijuana, if that is based on a doctor’s written recommendation. A definition of a presumptive “60 day” supply of medical marijuana has adopted, and to possess more than that would require some proof that you, as a patient, require more than the presumptive amount.
Federal laws still prohibit the possession of marijuana, even for medicinal purposes. Even if you have a medical certificate for medicinal use of marijuana in Washington, you can potentially face federal charges for possession. Talk to your attorney and your physician about the risks and options of medicinal use of marijuana.