Tacoma Medical Marijuana Providers Vow To Fight Shutdown


Graphic: Cannabis Defense Coalition

​The city of Tacoma, Washington, has ordered eight local medical marijuana dispensaries to stop doing business by Saturday, sparking outrage among patients and providers. Cannabis advocates are planning an impromptu rally at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to support the dispensaries.
In a three-paragraph letter dated October 14 from Tax and License Manager Jodie Trueblood, dispensary operators were told that selling medical marijuana “to more than one patient” is illegal in Washington state, and outlines possible penalties if the shops don’t comply, reports Stacia Glenn at the Tacoma News-Tribune.
Business licenses will be revoked, fines and penalties could be assessed, and criminal prosecution isn’t out of the question, according to Trueblood’s letter.
Dispensary workers said on Monday that they were surprised when they received the cease and desist letters. Some have already appealed the decision, with others saying they plan to do so.
Advocates say that hundreds of supporters have been mobilized for a rally before Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. If they are unsuccessful on getting the dispensary question onto the Council’s agenda, they said they plan to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Photo: The Stranger
Philip Dawdy, Sensible Washington: “If the city follows through with trying to close these places down, they’ll be cutting 10,000 people off from their medication”

​”I’m going to spend every last dime I have in this fight,” said Emiel A. Kandi, director of COBRA Medical Group. “We have done nothing to deserve this.”
“These people are real medical patients; their history is documentable,” Kandi said. “We verify all of them in writing with their doctors.”
Each of the 800 medical marijuana patients buying medicine at COBRA signs a form designating the dispensary as their provider, according to Jay Berneburg, a lawyer for the group, reports Chris Legeros at KIRO 7 Eyewitness News.
Then, after the sale, the patient signs paperwork removing COBRA as their designated provider.
“And that means the designated provider who can only be a designated provider to any one person at a time is now available to be somebody else’s designated provider,” Berneburg said.
Tacoma’s dispensaries supply marijuana for more than 10,000 patients in the area, estimates Philip Dawdy, vice chairman for legalization advocates Sensible Washington.
“We want to get across the point that this is a very important issue to a lot of people and if the city follows through with trying to close these places down, they’ll be cutting 10,000 people off from their medication,” Dawdy said.
The two sides of the conflict are interpreting Washington state’s vague marijuana law differently.
City officials claim the law allows only a one-on-one relationship between patient and provider, meaning someone authorized to grow a limited amount of marijuana can do so only for a single patient.
Medical marijuana providers said officials are ignoring the last three words of the law’s definition of a designated provider as someone who supplies cannabis “to only one patient at any one time.”
“They’re saying we’re acting as a designated provider for more than one patient, which we are,” Kandi said. “But they’re reading half of (the law) and putting their finger over the other half of it so they don’t have to read it.”
“The City of Tacoma is clearly misinterpreting state law on medical marijuana,” said Douglas Hiatt, chair of Sensible Washington and a longtime medical marijuana attorney.
“The city’s reading of the law is inconsistent with what Washington voters approved in 1998,” Hiatt said. “It’s also inconsistent with how the same law is read by King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.”
“The city’s claim is absurd and heartless,” agreed Philip Dawdy, vice-chair of Sensible Washington. “If these dispensaries are forced to close, it will harm legitimate patients. It’s frustrating that we’re still fighting these kinds of battles 12 years after Washington voters approved medical marijuana.”
The rally will come four days before days before the ordered closure and is expected to generate a large turnout among medical marijuana patients and other activists. 
Both Trueblood and Rob McNair-Huff, community relations manager for the city, said city attorneys had “thoroughly researched” the state medical marijuana law and and had also looked at activity at the dispensaries before making a determination.
“It’s a question of whether it’s a one-on-one or a one-to-many, which is not allowed,” McNair-Huff said. Some of the dispensaries have been open for about a year; McNair claimed he was unsure why it took so long for the city to do anything.
“I think it had taken some time for our legal staff to come to their conclusion in terms of the activities these businesses were doing,” McNair-Huff said.
One Tacoma dispensary, North End Club 420, was raided by the city in mid-May and two men arrested on marijuana-related charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.
After that raid, dozens of Tacoma residents and business owners spoke passionately on the subject to the City Council, according to the News-Tribune. They expressed concerns about using scarce city resources to hassle patients and providers, and making it more difficult for patients to obtain cannabis safely.
“My worry is for the people who are going to suffer from this,” said William Sandor, manager of dispensary Tacoma Cross. “I don’t think they want people getting their medicine on the street.”
According to Sandor, 1,250 patients get medical marijuana from Tacoma Cross. Many of them have called the dispensary in a panic, wondering where they can get their medicine if the city shuts all the dispensaries.
While the fear of police raids spreads through the medical marijuana community, law enforcement officers claim they won’t target “innocent parties.”
“We understand the spirit of the law, claimed Lt. Shawn Stringer, who oversees the Tacoma Police Department’s narcotics unit.
“We are not targeting patients,” Stringer claimed. “We are targeting people who abuse the law who sell marijuana as a for-profit business and as a criminal enterprise.”
Tacoma co-op and dispensary operators are currently reviewing their legal options.
For KIRO-TV’s video coverage of the story, visit:
What: Tacoma City Council medical marijuana dispensary ban protest
When: Tuesday, October 19, 2010, 4:30-7:30 p.m.
Where: Tacoma City Hall, 747 Market Street, Tacoma, WA

Graphic: Jeremy Miller