|Scott Shupe of Change, a medical marijuana dispensary in Spokane, had his drug trafficking convictions reversed on Tuesday|
In a huge victory for medicinal cannabis, the "drug trafficking" convictions of Scott Q. Shupe, a man who operated Spokane, Washington's first medical marijuana dispensary were reversed on Tuesday in a state Appeals Court ruling.
In the 2-1 decision, Judges Dennis Sweeney and Teresa Kulik ruled that Spokane police did not have probable cause to search Shupe's residence and business, and that Spokane County prosecutors did not have enough evidence to justify Shupe's 2011 convictions for drug trafficking.
One happy result of Tuesday's decision, according to Shupe's attorney, is that Spokane police will be forced to return more than $8,000 in cash and three jars filled with marijuana that were seized during the raid.
Beyond the particulars of the case in question, the ruling seems to clear the way for medical marijuana access points to operate legally in Eastern Washington, reports Thomas Clouse of the Spokane Spokesman-Review. The eastern part of the state has, until now, been largely unfriendly to dispensaries.
Sweeney and Kulik agreed with Shupe's attorney that the language of Washington's medical marijuana law should be interpreted to allow medicinal cannabis providers to sell marijuana to one customer at a time, rather than the prosecution's interpretation of providers selling it to only one person at all.
|Attorney Frank Cikutovich: "We have been waiting for the legal answer and it looks like we finally got one"|
"We have been waiting for the legal answer and it looks like we finally got one," defense attorney Frank Cikutovich said. "The feds should notice that there are people who need this medicine legitimately."
The case provides long-sought clarification in Washington's medical marijuana law -- particularly regarding how patients can actually obtain cannabis -- but, predictably, U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby said that federal prosecutors will continue to target dispensaries.
"They are not legal under federal law, regardless of what the state law says," Ormsby sputtered impotently. "If we found an operating dispensary in Spokane County or the Eastern District of Washington ... selling a large volume and located close to a school and meets a number of factors we have identified, we would not hesitate to take action to close it down."
Read that again, closely, and you can see the widening cracks in the federal facade when it comes to their doomed and quixotic war against medical marijuana. Rather than just stating the obvious -- that ALL marijuana dispensaries are, by their very existence, violating federal law in dispensing a Schedule I controlled substance -- Ormsby feels it necessary to name additional qualifiers which could get an access point raided.
In other words, paradoxically, the very fact that a federal prosecutor feels the need to name proximity to schools, and "selling a large volume" as reasons to get raided by the feds, means, when you squint at it right, that the feds are feeling the pressure of a populace which is increasingly upset by their heavy handed crackdown on medical marijuana in states where voters have approved it.
|MHP of Spokane|
|Jerry Laberdee, MHP of Spokane: "We have yet to receive any notice of any infraction of state law that required the armed intervention of federal officers"|
Defense attorney Cikutovich called Tuesday's ruling a major victory for his client. Shupe was the first to open a marijuana dispensary in Spokane after voters passed the original 1998 initiative legalizing medicinal use of cannabis in Washington state.
According to his attorney, Shupe "was a maverick. He designed his business based on his and my interpretation of the full compliance with state law.
"He was the first one to put his butt on the line and test it," Cikutovich said. "My hope is that we can get to the point where this can help the patients that this law was designed for."
Cikutovich said the feds had previously told him they wouldn't interfere with dispensaries which operated strictly by the letter of Washington's state law. But within a week of Shupe's conviction in March 2011, federal authorities sent threatening letters to all other operating dispensaries in the area, warning they faced impending legal action if they did not shut down.
Most dispensaires complied, but federal prosecutors did indict a handful of others who remained open, Cikutovich said.
Former dispensary operator Jerry Laberdee (MHP of Spokane) was charged under federal law as one of the federal indictments.
"We have yet to receive any notice of any infraction of state law that required the armed intervention of federal officers to save society from all the harm we were causing as soon as humanly possible," Laberdee told Toke of the Town Wednesday morning. "State police agencies were as involved as the federal authorities in this atrocity.
"Yesterday's ruling was a step in the right direction as far as forcing the police and prosecutors to respect the same laws they expect us to respect," Laberdee said. "But until they understand that there should be no 'us' and 'them' in this equation, there will always be a reason to mistrust all their motivations actions, statements and claims.
"These are the people we are supposed to be able to turn to for protection of our rights and instead we fear their presence in any situation," Laberdee said. "This atmosphere is a breeding ground for alienation, dehumanization of the masses and ultimately, corruption."
Shupe testified he'd been selling 10 pounds of marijuana per week to 1,280 patients at his Change dispensary, formerly located at 1514 W. Northwest Boulevard in Spokane. He never spent a day in prison following his conviction; Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen had delayed Shupe's prison term until the appeal decision, which came Tuesday.
Cikutovich noted that both state and federal prosecutors in King County -- on Puget Sound, the west side of the state -- have allowed medical marijuana dispensaries to operate for the past five years.
"As soon as you cross the mountains, it's a whole different situation," he said. "It shouldn't be that way when you're in the same state."