Spokane Medical Marijuana Dispensaries On Federal Notice; Operators, Owners Could Face Prosecution

Medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane face federal prosecution if they do not end their operations immediately, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced Wednesday.

Federal authorities hope for voluntary compliance but are prepared “for quick and direct action against the operators of the stores,” according to a statement by Mike Ormsby, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

Federal authorities will target both the operators of the stores and the owners of the properties where the stores are located, he said.

“We intend to use the full extent of our legal remedies to enforce the law,” Ormsby said. Depending on the amount of marijuana, some federal crimes carry mandatory minimum sentences of 10 years or more.

More than 40 dispensaries are operating in the Spokane area, Ormsby said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, said no timeline has been provided but that authorities are prepared.

Similar dispensaries operate in Western Washington, but no enforcement action has been announced there.

Charles Wright, who owns the THC Pharmacy on South Perry Street, said he has no plans to shut down.

“This is the federal government attacking the people they’re supposed to represent,” Wright said. “It makes no sense. This is an established system that the state voters have voted for in 15 states, and the federal government is going to attack us.”

Melissa Lunsford, who owns CBR Medical, which issues medical marijuana authorizations but does not sell marijuana, said her landlord received letters referencing the clinic and a dispensary on property he owns in Spokane Valley.

“We’re not exactly sure how we fall in the category,” Lunsford said. “Dispensaries I can understand because they’re such a gray area.”

A Spokane County jury recently convicted former dispensary owner Scott Q. Shupe of three drug felonies for his work at Change, the first commercial dispensary to face criminal prosecution in the state.

Prosecutors in Spokane County believe the businesses are illegal because they sell marijuana to more than one patient. State law, passed by voters in 1998 and adjusted by the state Legislature in 2008, allows for patients to have up to 15 plants and a pound and a half at a time; caretakers are to provide marijuana to one person “at any one time.” The law says nothing about commercial dispensaries.

“The proliferation of marijuana stores, which are not authorized under state law, suggests that drug traffickers are attempting to avoid application of state law through the use of these stores,” Ormsby said. “Drug traffickers cannot hide behind the law by simply claiming they are medical marijuana stores.”

The federal government classifies marijuana in the same category as heroin. The U.S. attorney’s office said Wednesday that marijuana “has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.”

Spokane lawyer Pat Stiley, who defends medical marijuana patients and dispensaries, noted that several people in the United States are authorized by the federal government to consume marijuana for medicinal purposes.

He called the belief that marijuana holds no medicinal value “a crock of baloney.”

“This proves to me that my federal government doesn’t know what the hell is going on,” he said. “It’s hard for me to imagine anybody who doesn’t think that medical marijuana helps glaucoma patients in a way that no other medication has ever been able to do.”

Stiley said federal authorities appear to be “jumping the gun” in the wake of a new law regulating dispensaries that’s expected to pass the state House. Gov. Chris Gregoire has said she’ll sign the law.

“What a waste of energy in the very week that we think Washington law is going to change totally,” Stiley said.

Guidelines sent to U.S. attorneys by the U.S. Department of Justice in October 2009 said prosecuting seriously ill medical marijuana patients “is unlikely to be an efficient use of limited federal resources” but noted that marijuana distribution in the United States is the top revenue source for violent Mexican drug cartels.

“Prosecution of commercial enterprises that unlawfully market and sell marijuana for profit continues to be an enforcement priority of the Department,” the memo said.

– Article originally from The Spokesman-Review


Marijuana Stores Violate Federal Law

Today, Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that he has notified landlords that marijuana stores are illegal and warned them of the penalties they may face. Marijuana continues to be prohibited by federal law and specifically marijuana stores are subject to enforcement action and stringent federal penalties. Under federal law, the possession or distribution of marijuana remains illegal, despite state law.

In 2001, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Drug Enforcement Administration thoroughly analyzed the relevant medical, scientific, and abuse data and concluded that marijuana continues to meet the criteria for placement in schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. The Food and Drug Administration reiterated this determination in April 2006, stating in a news release:

Marijuana is listed in schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), the most restrictive schedule. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which administers the CSA, continues to support that placement and FDA concurred because marijuana met the three criteria for placement in Schedule I under 21 U.S.C. 812(b)(1) (e.g., marijuana has a high potential for abuse, has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States, and has a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision). Furthermore, there is currently sound evidence that smoked marijuana is harmful. A past evaluation by several Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA), concluded that no sound scientific studies supported medical use of marijuana for treatment in the United States, and no animal or human data supported the safety or efficacy of marijuana for general medical use. There are alternative FDA-approved medications in existence for treatment of many of the proposed uses of smoked marijuana.

* * *

FDA has not approved smoked marijuana for any condition or disease indication.

* * *

Accordingly, FDA, as the federal agency responsible for reviewing the safety and efficacy of drugs, DEA as the federal agency charged with enforcing the CSA, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy, as the federal coordinator of drug control policy, do not support the use of smoked marijuana for medical purposes.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy supports multi-faceted prevention and treatment programs and firmly opposes the legalization of marijuana and all illegal drug use.

The voters approved a ballot initiative in 1998, which removed the state-level criminal penalties for physician prescribed marijuana. In November 2008, the state adopted a rule that authorized a 60 day supply of no more than 24 ounces and no more than 15 plants of marijuana. “The proliferation of marijuana stores, which are not authorized under state law, suggests that drug traffickers are attempting to avoid application of state law through the use of these stores,” U.S. Attorney Mike Ormsby stated. “Drug traffickers cannot hide behind the law by simply claiming they are medical marijuana stores,” said Mr. Ormsby. According to information gathered by drug enforcement authorities, there are currently over 40 stores in Spokane County alone, more than any other county in the State. Many of these stores are located close to schools, parks, and playgrounds where children are often present. “Additionally, many of these stores are conducting a high volume, high dollar business, far from the allegations of the operators that they are furnishing marijuana to “patients” with debilitating medical conditions,” added Mr. Ormsby.

“Our goal is to first seek voluntary compliance with the law by notifying property owners of the non-conforming use of their property, with the expectation that they take appropriate action. If they do not, the U.S. Attorney’s Office will determine the appropriate law enforcement response, which could include the forfeiture of the property used to facilitate the crimes,” said Mr. Ormsby.

There are two targets to our enforcement action; the operators of the stores and the owners of the real property where the stores operate. The property owners have been notified of the penalties associated with renting property to those operating the stores, as they may be unaware of the ramifications of such action. Mr. Ormsby said he hopes that notice to the landlords will lead to voluntary compliance and eviction of those illegally distributing marijuana.

On the other hand, “we are preparing for quick and direct action against the operators of the stores,” Mr. Ormsby said. “We intend to use the full extent of our legal remedies to enforce the law.”

– Article originally from US Dept of Justice

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