September 10, 2009 in City

Police arrest medical-pot dispensary owners

By The Spokesman-Review
Video: Police spokeswoman on marijuana dispensary arrests
Colin Mulvany photo

Spokane police spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe stands next to a bag of marijuana plants confiscated from a home at 3928 N. Cedar St. on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2009. Spokane police have arrested the owners of a medical marijuana dispensary on suspicion of intent to distribute marijuana.
(Full-size photo)

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Read more on this story at the Sirens & Gavels blog

As police pulled marijuana plants from the home of a medical marijuana supplier Thursday in north Spokane, a woman stood on a porch next door, smoking pot from a glass pipe.

Sherri Rager wasn’t worried about getting busted. Her state-issued medical marijuana permit allows her to legally smoke and possess the otherwise illegal weed.

But she’ll need to find a new place to get her supply. Police arrested her friend and supplier, Christopher P. Stevens, 36, for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute in an investigation that authorities hope will serve as a warning for other medical marijuana dispensaries. Scott Q. Shupe, 54, who owns the medical marijuana dispensary Change with Stevens, also was arrested. Both remained in Spokane County Jail Thursday night.

More than 30 plants were seized from Stevens’ home on North Cedar Street, and detectives found more than 100 plants at a Nine Mile Falls home, as well as a grow operation at 900 E. 11th Ave. Spokane police also raided the Change dispensary at 1514 W. Northwest Boulevard and a home at 726 W. Mansfield. Dozens of card holders and pot advocates rallied outside City Hall Thursday afternoon to protest the raids.

No other dispensaries were raided, but all received a letter from the Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office warning them that their operations are illegal.

The bust comes just weeks after Darren McCrea, founder of the medical marijuana support group SpoCannabis, was charged with selling marijuana to five medical card holders, and with possession with intent to deliver and manufacture of a controlled substance. Police raided his home last year.

The Spokane Police Department is the first agency in Washington to arrest distributors of medical marijuana, shaping a legal showdown over a voter-imposed law both sides say is confusing.

“We’ve got to get this figured out because we feel people are taking advantage of the law,” said Spokane police spokeswoman Officer Jennifer DeRuwe. “It’s going to have to go the higher courts, and we fully expect it to.”

At issue is a provision in the voter-approved law allows caretakers to supply up to 1.5 pounds of marijuana “at any one time” to those with state-issued medical marijuana cards.

Dispensaries like Change have patients check in and check out and prohibit more than one customer from being in the supply room at a time, which they argue complies with the “at any one time” provision. But Spokane County prosecutors say the provision limits each caretaker to just one patient - period - and businesses such as Change with multiple customers are illegal.

The state Department of Health Web site says the dispensaries are illegal, too.

As undercover detectives searched the small building where Change operated, Chantel Jackson, owner of the dispensary Human Connection, cried in a nearby parking lot.

“I just feel so bad for the patients. Where are they going to go?” Jackson said.

Shupe is already facing a felony drug charge in Oregon after police found 4 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle during a traffic stop last month.

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