|Photo: Jesse Tinsley/Spokesman-Review|
|Paul Ellis sold medical marijuana from this Spokane Valley strip mall until he was raided by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office — days after giving them a tour of the place and of his home marijuana grow operation. In the window is reflected a Washington State Patrol office.|
Paul Ellis thought he wasn’t doing anything wrong when he opened a medical marijuana dispensary in Spokane, Washington last December. He located the operation, called Med Mar Dis, across the street from a Washington State Patrol office, and asked the sergeant who worked there if Ellis could use law enforcement labs to test his cannabis for contaminants.
But Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives didn’t see things that way, reports Nina Shapiro at our sister Village Voice Media blog, Seattle Weekly. The Spokane County Prosecutor’s office is considering filing drug charges against Ellis after detectives raided his dispensary and home on September 2, reports Meghann M. Cuniff at the Spokane Spokesman-Review.
According to the search warrant filed by deputies, when detectives first stopped by Med Mar Dis in August, an “eager and talkative” Ellis “told us in great detail how he just wanted to help people and other dispensaries in town were crooks.”
Deputies claimed he was enthusiastic telling them about his business in August, it was difficult to keep him “on one topic at a time due to his talkativeness,” according to the search warrant.
Ellis explained to the deputies how he tracks his transactions with about 200 customers.
He then invited the detectives home with him to see the marijuana he grew there.
|Photo: The Spokesman-Review|
|Washington state’s medical marijuana doesn’t clearly allow, or disallow, dispensaries, due to conflicting interpretations of the language, “only one patient at any one time.”|
The detectives, of course, accepted his open-hearted invitation, then contacted Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor John Grasso, who has long, and publicly, argued that anyone distributing medical marijuana to more than one patient is violating state law.
Marijuana advocates disagree, contending that when Washington’s medical marijuana law says caregivers can only provide marijuana for “one patient at any one time,” that doesn’t mean one patient total.
In any case, a Spokane County Sheriff’s Office team raided Ellis’s home and business this month, seizing marijuana, seeds and 179 cannabis plants. Ellis has not yet arrested, but could face drug charges. His case is being “reviewed” by the prosecutor’s office.
According to the warrant, Ellis asked Washington State Patrol Sgt. Dave Bolton last spring if he could use law enforcement labs to test his marijuana for contaminants.
Bolton said he was already aware of the dispensary — he’d told the Sheriff’s Office about it after it opened 100 feet from his office on East Sprague Avenue. Bolton had been grimly “monitoring activity” at the shop since late December 2009, but sheriff’s officials said prosecutors were waiting for the outcome of criminal charges brought against two other dispensary owners in Spokane last summer.
In early August, Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leven told Sgt. Brett Gores of several complaints from citizens about Ellis’s dispensary. Detectives stopped by the store on August 9 and met with Ellis, at which time he enthusiastically gave them a tour of the place.
Detectives counted 211 customers on Ellis’s business records. Ellis told them he made about $200 to $500 a day selling marijuana, and that he hoped to get a large warehouse to grow and sell it, according to the search warrant.
He also, as previously noted, repeatedly invited the detectives to his home to view his pot plants. They counted about 220 plants when they arrived at his home on East Riverside Avenue on August 10.
A team from the Sheriff’s Office raided the home and dispensary on September 2.
Ellis told Seattle Weekly that he is a medical marijuana patient and that he had been “poisoned” by pot he got at another Spokane dispensary. He said he didn’t think the other dispensary knowingly gave him the tainted pot, but the incident prompted him to open his own shop.
As pointed out by Shapiro at Seattle Weekly, the raid could have an impact on the coming legislative debate on whether to legalize and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington state. Although the dispensaries are largely tolerated in the western part of the state, at least the Puget Sound area (OK, in King County), they aren’t specifically allowed by the state’s medical marijuana law, and thus remain in a gray area legally.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles (D-Seattle) has drafted a bill which would provide safe access for patients by formally legalizing dispensaries.