|Photo: Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review|
|Scott Shupe is shown sitting in Change, the Spokane marijuana dispensary that he co-owned, in this 2009 file photo. Shupe was convicted on March 17, 2011, on felony drug charges after a jury rejected his argument that Washington’s medical marijuana law allows dispensaries to operate.|
How long now until more raids?
In a case closely watched by both the medical marijuana community and law enforcement, a Spokane, Washington jury rejected arguments Thursday that the state’s medical marijuana law should be interpreted broadly to allow for commercial dispensaries, convicting a provider of multiple drug trafficking charges.
Scott Q. Shupe, who co-owned one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane, argued that a broad interpretation of the state’s medical marijuana law means that dispensaries can supply authorized patients, provided they serve just one patient at a time, reports Thomas Clouse at The Spokane Spokesman-Review.
Prosecutors disputed that interpretation, claiming that the medical marijuana law, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 1998, makes no allowances for dispensaries.
Both sides in the case were hoping the jury would provide guidance on what many argue is a confusing state law.
Spokane police had put enforcement actions on hold while awaiting the outcome of the trial; many activists were concerned they’d see the jury’s decision as a green light to further raids, now that they know they can get a conviction.
Meanwhile in state capitol Olympia, legislators are looking at a bill intended to clarify the medical marijuana law by specifically allowing dispensaries.
Exactly how patients were supposed to get their medication was something of a gray area in the 1998 ballot measure, since it made no provision for how patients would obtain medical marijuana, other than to allow them to grow up to 15 plants.
Commercial dispensaries have opened across the state since the Obama Administration’s memo indicating it would not pursue patients and providers abiding by state laws in states were medical marijuana is legal.
Enforcement actions against the pot shops has varied widely. Authorities in King County have largely ignored dispensaries, while in Spokane — at the eastern end of the state — they’ve been targeted by police and drug investigators.
The key to the case is the language regarding the sale of marijuana from a care provider, according to defense attorney Fran Cikutovich, who argued the law allows dispensaries to essentially become the care provider for the limited time when they sell to each licensed medical marijuana patient.
“We have a defendant who did everything he possibly could to comply with the law,” Cikutovich said.
As is the practice of many Washington dispensaries, Shupe and his partners at the Change dispensary would write down the time of each transaction to note when they were providing the care through the sale of marijuana.
Shupe also verified that each patient had a valid license for marijuana, and he double-checked those records with the medical clinics that issued the authorizations.