In July 2011, Washington State Law RCW: 69.51A was amended to include new requirements for healthcare professionals, who authorize medical cannabis use for qualifying patients.
A ”qualifying patient” has a “terminal or debilitating” medical condition, including, cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy or other seizure disorders, Hepatitis C, glaucoma, Crohn’s Disease, anorexia, and other conditions resulting in nausea, vomiting, wasting, appetite loss, cramping, seizures, muscle spasms, or severe intractable pain, unrelieved by standard treatments or medications.
Since June 2010, the list of healthcare professionals who may authorize the medical use of cannabis, was expanded to include not only MDs, but other licensed medical professionals, such as physician’s assistants, osteopathic physicians, osteopathic physicians' assistants, naturopaths, or advanced registered nurse practitioners.
The law states that a healthcare professional shall be excepted from the state's criminal laws and not be penalized in any manner, or denied any right or privilege for:
- Advising a qualifying patient that the use of medical cannabis will benefit the patient’s condition, within a professional standard of care and based on sound medical opinion;
- Providing a qualifying patient with valid authorization for medical cannabis use, based on thorough assessment of the patient's medical history and current condition.
Now, a healthcare professional may only provide a qualifying patient with valid documentation authorizing the use of medical cannabis, if he or she has a newly initiated or existing documented relationship with the patient, relating to the diagnosis and ongoing treatment of the patient's terminal or debilitating medical condition, and only after:
- Completing a physical examination of the patient as appropriate;
- Documenting the patient’s condition and stating that the patient may benefit from treatment with medical cannabis in the patient’s medical record;
- Discussing other options for treating the medical condition and documenting other measures, if any, to treat the condition prior to authorizing the medical use of cannabis.
Doctors may, but are not required to authorize the use of medical cannabis. In order to convince your doctor of the benefits of medical cannabis for your condition, you must not only understand your illness, you must know exactly how the medicine helps you. Physicians consider symptoms of an illness, and not just the illness itself, before authorizing medical cannabis. Tell your doctor exactly how much you use, and how it relieves your symptoms. A written journal of symptoms and the effects of cannabis treatment over time might help you illustrate your point more effectively. Be honest about any positive or negative effects of cannabis in your personal case. Your doctor needs to know that you have a mature and realistic view of the risks and benefits of this controversial herbal treatment.
Not only is cannabis one of the safest treatments in use today, it is also the only medicine that works for many people with terminal or debilitating conditions. However, decades of negative publicity generated by the US government may still affect the opinions of some doctors. Persuasive arguments can be crucial. One patient changed his doctor’s mind by pointing out that cannabis was the only medicine that allowed him to keep down other medications, so he could not stop using it. But if he went to jail for using cannabis without a physician’s authorization, he would be locked up without access to any medication! The doctor had to agree, the benefits outweighed the risks.
Without valid documentation, a patient may end up in jail for illegal drug possession.
Personal medical information is not “valid documentation” under the law. “Valid documentation” constitutes:
- A statement signed and dated by a qualifying patient’s healthcare professional written on tamper-resistant paper, which states the professional opinion that the patient may benefit from medical use of cannabis; and
- Proof of identity, such as a Washington state driver’s license or ID.
Standard updated medical cannabis authorization forms are available from the Washington State Medical Association(WSMA).
Your doctor cares about your health. But even well-meaning physicians may not approve of medical cannabis for different reasons. It may be that a physician would like to recommend cannabis treatment, but cannot. Major medical institutions are governed by federal statutes and depend on federal funding, so the healthcare professionals they employ have been ordered to refrain from authorizing cannabis for medical use, regardless of circumstances.
If there is no possibility of convincing your doctor that cannabis is a necessary part of your medical therapy, you may consider finding another licensed medical professional, whose practice is not so large and/or structured by a major institution. Dedicated physicians at small clinics are often more likely to put patients’ health and medical rights ahead of institutional and financial concerns and authorize the medical use of cannabis to safely and effectively treat their terminal and/or debilitating condition in accordance with Washington state law.
State investigates workers who ok'd medical marijuana at Hempfest - Seattle Times.