April 13, 2011 in City

Pot dispensary owner sentenced

Shupe’s six-month term, which the judge deferred, is lowest possible punishment
By and The Spokesman-Review
 
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Spokane medical marijuana dealer Scott Q. Shupe will avoid prison on drug-trafficking charges, at least for now.

“In this case it was clear you didn’t intend to break the law, which is in a state of flux as we speak,” Spokane County Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen said during a Tuesday sentencing hearing. “But the jury found you guilty. That’s what I’m stuck with.”

Eitzen imposed the lowest possible jail term under the state’s standard sentencing guidelines, which is six months given Shupe’s criminal history, but then delayed the punishment if Shupe appeals and comes up with a $5,000 bond. He also was ordered to avoid selling drugs to anyone.

“I think it’s funny that he may be the only person convicted for a dispensary, which may be legal in a week,” said defense attorney Frank Cikutovich, referring to efforts in Olympia to clarify the state’s voter-approved medical marijuana law. “I think it was a complete waste of resources as far as the county is concerned.”

Shupe, 56, argued during last month’s trial that the state’s medical marijuana law enables dispensaries to supply doctor-approved marijuana patients, provided they serve just one patient at a time.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Teresa Border disputed that interpretation, arguing that the medical marijuana law, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 1998, makes no provisions for commercial dispensaries. Jurors agreed with the prosecution.

“I had no intention of breaking the law,” said Shupe, who has one felony drug conviction and has a case pending in Oregon. “I wanted to be the best dispensary on the planet. I still don’t see that I did anything wrong.”

The case was watched closely by authorities and dispensary operators alike, with both sides hoping that the jury would provide guidance for what many argue is a confusing state law.

Outside the courthouse, about two dozen marijuana advocates spent the afternoon protesting Spokane’s crackdown on medical pot dispensaries. Shupe – who has a doctor-issued medical marijuana card – joined them and smoked some marijuana before heading to court.

Shupe blames what he calls the “military industrial complex” for keeping marijuana illegal, saying military officials are afraid no one will fight wars if marijuana is legal.

Protester Dennis Whited attended Shupe’s sentencing. Whited owns a dispensary called Medical Herb Providers. He began using medical marijuana after losing his leg in a motorcycle accident nearly two years ago.

He said he has no plans to close his dispensary but has been ordered out of his rental property on Freya Street after his landlord was warned by federal authorities about possible prosecution. He said he’ll find a new building or will become a mobile dispensary.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Whited said.

Meanwhile, in Olympia, state lawmakers are attempting to provide greater clarity in the law. A proposal to regulate pot farms and medical marijuana dispensaries has cleared each legislative chamber, but backers are still trying to iron out minor differences in each version.

Without the legislative guidance, communities have taken different approaches to enforcement. Seattle-area police and prosecutors, for example, have made enforcement of medical marijuana their lowest priority and have let dispensaries operate openly without interference.

Cikutovich, Shupe’s defense attorney, said his client sold marijuana only to doctor-approved medicinal users. Cikutovich said Shupe routinely kicked out patrons who tried to buy pot without proper authorization.

Cikutovich asked Eitzen for an exceptionally light sentence given the ambiguity of the law. “The law was written terribly in 1998 and Mr. Shupe is suffering because of it.”

Eitzen said she did what she could. She said she respects the decision of the jury.

“I have such great respect for juries. I’m not saying they made a mistake,” she said. “There is no solution I like, but I’m bound to follow the law.”


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