Little-Known Medical Marijuana Loophole Allows Teens To Get Lots of Pot

Jun 30, 2014

When voters approved Initiative 502, one part of the law that appealed to parents was that recreational marijuana would only be available to people 21 and older.

What many parents don’t realize is that it’s possible for a healthy teenager, with the help of an unethical medical provider, to obtain authorization for medical marijuana, which then gives them access to hundreds of dispensaries in the Seattle area. 

Meanwhile, Seattle Public Schools officials say marijuana use by students is on the rise, and students say it is easier to get than alcohol. Where is the supply coming from? Parents and school officials suspect medical marijuana dispensaries. 

Access To 24 Ounces Of Pot Every 60 Days

First, let’s get one thing out of the way: There are many adults and children who are really sick, who have horrible pain and discomfort that can be eased by marijuana. They go through the proper steps with their doctors and naturopaths and are only granted a medical marijuana authorization after other drugs and treatment have been tried.

Then you have the kids who are looking for a big supply of pot.

Paul Weatherly, a Bellevue-based drug counselor, meets with and advises young recovering addicts. He hears things other adults aren’t privy to.

“I was talking to a group of kids and they said, ‘Oh, I can hardly wait until I’m 18 and I can get my medical marijuana card.’ And I thought that was strange, because when I read the law, I didn’t see any age restrictions,” said Weatherly.

He’s right. There are no age restrictions and no parental oversight written into the state’s medical marijuana law.

Weatherly and school officials suspect teens seek out a medical professional who is willing to look the other way in exchange for a few hundred dollars. After that, the child has access to 24 ounces of pot every 60 days — a mountain of weed compared to the amount allowed under the recreational marijuana law.

File image
File image
Credit Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

“I ask, ‘How many of you people have green cards and share with people who don’t?’ And they look at me like I’m the dumbest guy in world. For them, it’s a no-brainer,” said Weatherly, referring to his sessions with teen addicts. 

Weatherly has met kids as young at 15 with medical marijuana authorizations. One teen told Weatherly that he got his authorization from a doctor over Skype.

What seems to be more common is 18-year-olds — kids who are often still in high school — seeking out the cards legally. The diagnosis often used to obtain authorization is “intractable pain.”

Kids Selling Pot To Card Holders, 'And It's Entirely Legal' 

Julie, a Seattle mom who wished to be identified only by her first name, knows about the access teens can have to pot from dispensaries. A few years ago, she and her husband dealt with their son using the drug.  

“It was tearing apart our family. I was sitting in the Parent Teacher Association meeting, and they were talking about who was going to make the cookies for Teacher Appreciation Day. And I’m sitting there thinking, ‘My son has just been expelled … for selling marijuana on campus with his medical marijuana green card.’”

Julie and her husband didn’t know anything about their son's medical marijuana authorization. At 18, the senior student was able to see a doctor on his own. His parents had no right to view his medical records, even though they paid for his health care. And not only could he buy a lot of marijuana, he could grow it, too.

“Those kids bring marijuana to school and they can sell it to other kids who have a marijuana card, and it’s entirely legal. They aren't supposed to be bringing it onto campus, but everyone knows what's going on,” said Julie. 

'We Are Seeing It All Over Our City'

Lisa Sharp, the manager of prevention and intervention for Seattle Public Schools, is also aware of teens who’ve obtained medical pot authorizations without their parents’ knowledge. School nurses have seen students going to dispensaries during lunch breaks. Teachers and security staff have reported an uptick in marijuana use on and off campus.

“We are seeing it all over our city, so in middle schools and high schools and elementary schools. I just got a call recently from an elementary school about student use,” said Sharp.

In the district’ 2012 student health survey, 39 percent of high school students who used marijuana at the time said they got the drug from a medical marijuana dispensary. 

'We Literally Have No Data About Our Patient Population'

So who are these medical professionals allowing this access? No one knows.

Unless someone calls the state Department of Health to report a specific problem, nothing will be investigated. DOH says it doesn’t have the financial resources to carry out investigations unless there is a complaint.

Kristi Weeks, director of the Department of Health's office of Legal Services, is frustrated by the fact that Washington, along with Washington D.C., is the only medical marijuana state in the country that doesn’t have a registry to keep track of who is using medical marijuana and who is authorizing it.  

“We literally have no data about our patient population,” said Weeks, adding a registry would be helpful in many ways. "It would show us who is authorizing medical marijuana and any patterns of concern. It would also allow the state to know in general the number of patients out there and they types of conditions being authorized for."

Washington almost got a medical marijuana registry this last legislative session, but the bill died. It included recommendations from the Liquor Control Board that would have made it illegal for minors to go into dispensaries without parental consent. 

“That was one part of the bill nobody argued about — that we have to protect children,” said Weeks.

Little Can Be Done To Limit 18-Year-Olds' Access

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, is the grandmother of the state’s medical marijuana. She is confident lawmakers will pass a bill next legislative session to boost oversight.

This file image shows Washington Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.
This file image shows Washington Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.
Credit Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

“We have to do a better job of restricting usage, providing penalties, all of that,” she said.

This could prevent younger high school students from seeking out lax authorizers. However, the loophole for 18-year-old high school students who are around adolescents would still exist. Kohl-Welles has no plan to change that since a person is considered an adult at that age.

“So we could say that someone can go to war, they can get married at age 18, they can have an abortion without parental approval, but they can’t use a medicine that their physician says they can use?” 

Unless lawmakers set up a system that keeps track of who is authorizing medical marijuana and who is receiving those authorizations, 18-year-olds eager to get their hands on a lot of pot might still be able to get a medical marijuana card if they know what to say to the right medical professional.

“Of course, they shouldn’t be doing that. I don’t authorize that. I don’t condone that. I don’t know what else to say,” said Kohl-Welles. 

Edibles, Vaporizers Appearing In Schools

Seattle Public Schools collects data about student drug use. In the 2012-2013 school year, officials confiscated packaged edibles from dispensaries from students for the first time.

“And this year is the first time we’ve confiscated marijuana vaporizer pens,” said Sharp.

All drugs and the paraphernalia that go with them get locked up in a safe.

Between September 2013 and mid-May of this year, there have been 651 drug offenses. Ninety-eight percent of them involved marijuana.