October 20, 2009 in City

Federal changes won’t affect local cases

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Background and the latest updates

New orders from the U.S Justice Department to end federal prosecution of state-authorized medical marijuana patients and dispensaries will have no effect on cases in Eastern Washington, prosecutors said Monday.

The policy memo issued Monday calls for an end to prosecution of medical marijuana patients and caregivers who are in “clear and unambiguous compliance” with state medical marijuana laws.

Those cases already aren’t prosecuted here, said Jim McDevitt, the U.S attorney for Eastern Washington.

“This office has, at least in my memory, never prosecuted anyone purely and simply because they were a medical marijuana user,” McDevitt said Monday. “But we have gone after them because they’ve basically been a distributor of medical marijuana.”

Local police and prosecutors consider anyone distributing marijuana to more than one authorized patient to be violating Washington’s voter-approved law, which allows for distribution to one person “at any one time.”

Individual users of medical marijuana who stay within the legal possession limits haven’t faced state prosecution and have been allowed by local police to keep the drug, according to police reports.

Dispensary operators in Spokane say the law allows for them to distribute to as many people as they want so long as transactions are separate.

Spokane police raided a dispensary called Change last month and arrested two operators, setting up a legal battle that doesn’t appear to be affected by Monday’s announcement.

“It’s really not going to have an impact here locally,” said Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor John Grasso

Change owners Scott Q. Shupe, 54, and Christopher P. Stevens, 36, appeared in Spokane County Superior Court on charges of distribution of a controlled substance after their arrests Sept. 10, but further court appearances have been canceled because formal charges haven’t been filed.

Grasso said he hasn’t received a report from police.

Both men are free on bond.

McDevitt declined to say if he was pursuing federal charges against Shupe and Stevens but emphasized that if local prosecutors thought a dispensary was violating state law, “then I’m interested.”

“Anybody operating a marijuana distribution entity or facility outside of state law is subject to potential federal prosecution,” McDevitt said.


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