Sunday, June 25, 2017 This Week's Paper

Feds crack down

// Raids at dispensaries welcomed by industry

The recent raids and subsequent arrests at medical marijuana dispensaries in the South Sound might be just what the industry needs to gain acceptance, said cannabis patient turned shop owner and activist Don Muridan.

“I think it is cleaning up the industry,” the executive director of the Rainier Wellness Center dispensary and cannabis patient said.

Muridan, who has cancer, is a member of the Tacoma Medical Cannabis Task Force that is charged with developing rules governing marijuana dispensaries that will be reviewed and adopted by Tacoma City Council next year and could provide other cities with a framework for regulating this new industry.

“We want to be a model not only for Washington but for other cities in states with medical marijuana dispensaries,” he said.

The task force will outline its suggestions on zoning rules before the end of the year and will likely further call for mandatory background checks for all dispensary employees as well as strict zoning rules that will not allow these medical clinics to be located around churches, schools or residential areas.

Other appointees to the mayor’s task force are: Laurie Jinkins, Washington state representative and Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department deputy director, attorney Stan Rumbaugh, Pierce County AIDS Foundation Executive Director Duane Wilkerson, Embellish Multispace Salon owner Patricia Lecy-Davis, University of Washington School of Medicine Professor Dr. Gregory Carter, State Senator Debbie Regala, former police officer and Citizen Review Board member McKenzie Allen, Safe Streets organizer Carol Owens, Tacoma Police Department officer Fred Scruggs and oncologist Dr. Bob Thiessen.

The driver behind the volunteer task force is to establish the rules surrounding medical marijuana operations in a legally gray area that involves city, state and federal laws. And there is plenty of gray area considering that federal law still considers cannabis an illegal drug, despite state and city laws legalizing its use, including the recently passed Initiative 1, which called for Tacoma to make marijuana offenses the lowest priority for police enforcement.

With that measure’s passage and the growing movement to allow the use of marijuana in the treatment of specific cancers, pain management and other ailments, federal agents made a point to say the recent raids last week were not targeting patients, but illegal activity by cannabis dispensaries.

Drug Enforcement Administration agents and local law enforcement executed search warrants in four ongoing federal investigations in Western Washington relating to what agents called illegal drug distribution and other crimes in violation of federal law. Each of the 14 investigations in King, Pierce and Thurston counties targeted commercial enterprises that allegedly failed to comply with applicable state law.

“Some of these marijuana stores were the subject of complaints from their surrounding communities as well as medical marijuana supporters, concerned about businesses operating outside the letter and spirit of state law,” the federal announcement of the raids stated.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in charge of the cases alleges the dispensaries listed in the search warrant were laundering money and distributing amounts of drugs beyond the amounts approved for personal use and filled orders to people without the proper recommendations from doctors.

“Our job is to enforce federal criminal laws,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. “In doing so, we always prioritize and focus our resources. As we have previously stated, we will not prosecute truly ill people or their doctors who determine that marijuana is an appropriate medical treatment. However, state laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment. In determining how to focus our drug enforcement resources, we will look at the true nature and scope of an enterprise, and its impact on the community. We will continue to target and investigate entities that are large-scale commercial drug enterprises, or that threaten public safety in other ways. Sales to people who are not ill, particularly our youth, sales or grows in school zones, and the use of guns in connection with an enterprise all present a danger to our community.”