March 30, 2010 in Region

Western Wash. pot activist denied guns after shootout

Gene Johnson Associated Press
Ted Warren photo

Medical marijuana activist Steve Sarich, photographed in his Kirkland home Tuesday, March 16, 2010, has been barred from buying guns after a shootout with intruders earlier this month, even though he says he has no criminal record.
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SEATTLE — A medical marijuana activist who nearly killed an intruder in his home during a shootout this month has been barred from buying guns because he’s a pot patient, according to an e-mail sent Tuesday by authorities.

The e-mail from the King County Sheriff’s Office to Steve Sarich said his paperwork authorizing him to use and grow marijuana for medical reasons was enough to deny him the possession of weapons. A copy of the e-mail was obtained by the Associated Press.

Sarich, 59, said he tried to buy a shotgun and a pistol a few days after the March 15 shootout to replace ones seized by investigators. He said he has no criminal record but failed the background check because of federal laws prohibiting “unlawful users” of controlled substances from buying or otherwise receiving guns. Marijuana is illegal under federal law.

The e-mail written by records unit supervisor Ann Swartz said that when Sarich reported a previous burglary at his Kirkland home, he showed his medical marijuana-use paperwork to investigators. The Sheriff’s Office then forwarded the burglary report to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System legal staff.

“They informed us that possession of a medical drug card is sufficient to establish an inference of current use,” Swartz wrote, “and therefore possession of firearms was prohibited.”

The prohibition on Sarich buying or having guns lasts for one year from the date of the police report, or Jan. 12, 2011. Swartz noted, however, that the date is likely to be extended until March 2011 because of this month’s shootout.

Five people were charged in the invasion of Sarich’s home in Kirkland, which is east of Seattle. Three pleaded not guilty Tuesday to burglary and attempted robbery charges, while the suspect shot by Sarich has undergone surgeries on his heart and lungs and had one of his legs amputated below the knee Monday, according to his lawyer.

Sarich suffered minor shotgun pellet wounds to his face and arm when one of the intruders fired at him.

Sarich runs CannaCare, an organization that claims 7,000 members in the state. It helps patients with legal advice, runs clinics where patients can meet with doctors who authorize marijuana use, provides patients with marijuana clones or starter plants and delivers about 50 patients a week with usable marijuana, he said.

The sheriff’s office insists he was making a handsome profit selling marijuana and starter plants and charging patients for attending the clinics. They are investigating him for potential violations of state’s medical marijuana law.

Rules allow patients up to 15 plants in any stage of growth and 24 ounces of dried bud, but they can have more if they demonstrate need. Investigators said they found 259 starter plants, 80 medium-size plants and 36 large plants at Sarich’s house.

Three years ago, Sarich’s Everett home was raided by state law enforcement officials who seized more than 1,000 plants. The case was referred to the U.S. attorney’s office, but no charges were filed.

Although the e-mail from Swartz said Sarich is barred from buying or possessing guns, Sarich said he borrowed one shortly after the shooting. He no longer has it, he said.

Investigators saw the weapon at his house but did not notify federal authorities because “they can enforce their own laws,” sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said.

“We’re not denying him the ability to protect himself,” Urquhart said.

Sarich argued that his Second Amendment rights should not be dependent on whether he has friends with guns to spare. He threatened to sue the Sheriff’s Office over the failed background check and has already vowed to sue over the seizure of his plants and other items.

“So no medical marijuana patients can possess guns, ever?” Sarich said. “I wonder if I can get the NRA involved in this one. Wouldn’t that make an odd couple?”

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