JoAnna McKee, longtime Washington state medical-pot activist, dies at 74

McKee passed away Nov. 18, said her longtime friend and fellow activist Dale Rogers. He was not certain of the cause.

JoAnna McKee, a pioneering medical marijuana activist in Washington state who went to sometimes difficult lengths to obtain the drug for the patients she served, has died at age 74.

McKee passed away Nov. 18, said her longtime friend and fellow activist Dale Rogers. He was not certain of the cause.

McKee was a fixture at marijuana policy hearings in the Legislature, where she often testified from her wheelchair, sporting a colorful eye patch and accompanied by her service dog.

She and her partner, Stich Miller, founded Seattle’s first cannabis co-op, Green Cross Patient Co-Op, in 1993, five years before Washington approved medical marijuana.

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She had used marijuana to treat debilitating pain from a moped accident and unsuccessful surgeries. After seeing a news report about cannabis buyers clubs for AIDS patients, she decided she wanted to give patients the excess marijuana she grew at her home on Bainbridge Island.

She couldn’t find a co-op to donate to, however, so she joined the Seattle AIDS Support Group in starting one, Rogers said. She and Miller also opened their home to patients.

“This was the height of the AIDS epidemic,” said Rogers, who has lived with HIV for three decades. “They knew how important this was. We didn’t have housing rights or medical benefits rights, but we found out that if we were a group working together, we were stronger.”

Difficulties with law enforcement were common. In 1995, news reports about McKee gathering signatures to legalize medical marijuana came to the attention of federal drug agents, who persuaded local authorities to shut down her grow operation. Sheriff’s officials seized 120 plants, but they did her a favor by hiding, rather than seizing, medicine bottles full of marijuana around her house so that patients would still be able to access them, said Rogers and Douglas Hiatt, a Seattle lawyer who has represented marijuana patients, including McKee, for more than two decades.

“She told me that later on she found bottles of cannabis in the couch cushions,” Rogers said.

McKee worked to pass Washington’s medical marijuana initiative, but she threw her support behind the measure only after its authors agreed that it would not limit patients to having a certain number of plants….

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