ACLU of Washington Applauds Supreme Court Decision Upholding Rights of Medical Marijuana Patients

News Release: 
Thursday, September 19, 2013

Olympia, WA

The ACLU of Washington hailed a decision by the Washington Supreme Court today recognizing the right of medical marijuana patients to raise a medical necessity defense in court.  The ACLU-WA filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case (State v. Kurtz) saying that the state’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act did not supersede the common law medical necessity defense, and that medical marijuana patients should be able to cite both medical necessity and state law in defending themselves. A medical necessity defense is available to someone who has violated a law, but was justified in doing so because the harm being avoided is greater than the harm of violating the law.

“This ruling is an important victory for the rights of medical marijuana patients in Washington. It recognizes that the voters, lawmakers, and the courts have determined that there are legitimate medical uses for marijuana and that patients should be able to exercise their rights as needed,” said Mark Cooke, ACLU of Washington Policy Counsel.    

In 2010, William Kurtz was charged with manufacturing and possession of marijuana. At the trial court, Mr. Kurtz attempted to raise both a statutory defense via the state’s Medical Use of Marijuana Act, as well as the longstanding common law medical necessity defense. The trial court did not allow either of these defenses to be presented, and Mr. Kurtz was found guilty.

In ruling in Mr. Kurtz’s favor today, the court found that he should have been able to present evidence to support a medical necessity defense. Further, that although the Medical Use of Marijuana Act and the common law medical necessity defense at times overlap, there was never intent by the legislature to invalidate the common law and to find otherwise would “undermine the legislature’s humanitarian goals.”

The ACLU-WA’s friend-of-the-court brief was written by cooperating attorney Shawn J. Larsen-Bright of Dorsey Whitney LLP and ACLU-WA Legal Director Sarah Dunne and Policy Counsel Mark Cooke.