Tacoma Retreats From Threat to Close Pot Dispensaries

A showdown between the city of Tacoma and eight marijuana dispensaries was averted Tuesday after both sides called on the state Legislature to spell out more clearly how medical-marijuana patients can legally access the drug if they don’t grow it themselves.

“The City Council is not in favor of getting between patients who have a legitimate medical need and access to that medicine,” city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff said Tuesday afternoon, as medical-marijuana proponents prepared to rally in support of the dispensaries the city had threatened to shut down.

The city’s business-licensing office, acting on advice from its attorneys, last week threatened to put the dispensaries out of business if they continued to provide medical marijuana to more than one patient. Doing so runs counter to state law, said Jodie Trueblood, the city’s tax and license manager.

The issue arose, she said, as her office was investigating traffic and odor complaints against five of the Tacoma dispensaries.

“They need to stop their dispensing to multiple people,” said Trueblood, whose office sent notices to the affected businesses on Friday.

The letters appeared to come as a surprise to the council, which already had signaled its intent to ask the Legislature to clarify a confusing law that has become a source of frustration for patients and law enforcement throughout Washington state.

“I run a legal business,” said Emiel Kandi, director of Cobra Medical Group, one of the dispensaries the city threatened to shut down.

“I knew at some point this would be a huge political fight,” he said. “The Legislature wrote a bad law. I’m a creative guy, and I drove a truck through it. But I haven’t broken the law.”

Kandi, who opened his business in July, said the 800 patients he serves would have a hard time getting their medicine if the city forbid businesses like his from operating.

The state’s medical-marijuana law allows certain medical practitioners in Washington to “authorize” use of the drug for patients with specific conditions. But practitioners are not allowed to tell patients where to get their pot. That means patients can either grow their own or designate a “caregiver” to supply them.

A growing number of cooperatives and small companies have cropped up in Western Washington over the past year or so, supplying cannabis to patients by designating themselves as “caregiver” for the time it takes to give the pot and collect a “donation.”

Whether a caregiver can supply only one person or one person at a time in succession is a question that has created problems for patients and law enforcement, which has to determine whether someone is a legitimate caregiver or a drug dealer.

In King County, co-ops match up patients who grow their own with patients who don’t. Provided they are not a nuisance or operating as drug fronts, they’ve been largely left alone to serve patients.

Tacoma’s warning letter came as a shock to the private businesses and cooperatives that have cropped up in Tacoma over the past year or so, said Philip Dawdy, vice chair of the advocacy group Sensible Washington.

The Tacoma City Council on Tuesday asked the dispensaries to appeal last week’s notices that they are operating illegally. The city also agreed to wait until after the 2011 legislative session to hold hearings on the appeals, said McNair-Huff, the city spokesman.

At least two legislators are expected to take up the issue next year: Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma, and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle.

Law enforcement and patient advocates both want clear-cut rules, even if they don’t agree on what those rules should be or who should oversee them, Regala said.

“Many of the people caught up in the confusion are patients in legitimate need of medicine to ease their pain,” Regala said. “The citizens have said this should be legal in our state. I’m going to be optimistic that we’re going to be able to do this.”

– Article from The Seattle Times.

Medical marijuana patients protest at Tacoma City Hall

by LINDA BRILL / KING 5 News

The city of Tacoma has backed off on a threat to shut down medical marijuana dispensaries.

The threatened crackdown led to protests at Tacoma City Hall as more than 100 medical marijuana patients, growers and distributers demonstrated against closures of medical marijuana stores in the city.

Eight medical marijuana dispensaries have been ordered to shut down by Saturday or face fines, penalties or criminal charges. The city says dispensing medical marijuana to more than one person is illegal in Washington state.

“Some distributors have gone over the line and dispensed to more than one patient,” said Tacoma city spokesman Rob McNair-Huff.

But venders say the law allows them to dispense to one patient at a time.

“One person at a time, unfortunately we’re not the ones who wrote the law as vague like that,” said Augustine Canales, owner of Tacoma Cross, a medical marijuana club.

The city is telling distributors to appeal their closures and no action will be taken while the state legislature considers changes to the marijuana law.

– Article from KING 5 News.

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