April 28, 2011 in City

Spokane-area pot shops being raided

By and The Spokesman-Review
 
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Outside the THC Pharmacy pot dispensary, marijuana activists chant in protest on Perry St. in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, April 28, 2011. The DEA raided the dispensary while most dispensary owners and pot activists were at a meeting about how to handle DEA raids.
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Several medical marijuana dispensaries are being raided this afternoon across Spokane.

On the South Hill, federal agents shut down THC Pharmacy, 1108 S. Perry St., witnesses say. The operators were being detained by agents. Spokane Police have been positioned outside the pot shop.

A small band of protesters also gathered outside the shop, chanting “DEA go away” and “we’re patients, not criminals.”

“They just walked in the door and said ‘you’re busted, everybody sit down’,” said Cassandra Wright, a THC Pharmacy employee and mother of Charles Wright, who co-owns the shop with John Vivian. “They walked in with their chests all puffed up and in numbers.”

She said authorities seized computers, phones, receipts, patient files, marijuana, books and the laminator.

“They took everything,” said Wright, who works on the computers in the shop. “They took my personal property like I’m some kind of drug dealer.”

Other shops are being targeted as well, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Rice.

“I can’t say how many places,” he said. “Because of its ongoing nature, we can’t comment any further. We don’t expect to release anything more today.”

However, medical marijuana advocates say agents also raided several other dispensaries: Evergreen Medical, a shop at 12004 N. Market St; Club Compassion, at 1004 East Bridgeport Avenue; Human Connection, at 5315 North Market Street; and Medical Herb Providers, at 306 North Freya Street.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office sent dispensary operators notices earlier this month advising they shut down or risk federal enforcement action. Many of the approximately 40 medical marijuana dispensaries reportedly complied but others remained open for business.

Today’s clash marks the latest development in an ongoing battle over medical marijuana.

Washington voters overwhelmingly approved medicinal use of marijuana in 1998, but the ballot measure left open the question of how doctor-approved users can legally obtain their pot. Advocates say the state law allows for dispensary operations under its “caretaker” provision but a Spokane County Superior Court jury rejected that argument last month in the first drug-trafficking case of its kind to be taken to trial in Washington.

Additionally, federal prosecutors note that while state law allows for medical use of marijuana, federal law still considers all marijuana possession and use illegal.

Meanwhile in Olympia today, Washington’s leading constitutional scholar dismissed federal threats to prosecute state workers who facilitate a proposed revamp of the state’s medical marijuana laws.

Hugh Spitzer, a law professor at University of Washington, sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire saying she shouldn’t be “bullied” into vetoing the medical marijuana revamp approved by lawmakers.

“I am not aware of any situations in the last sixty years, and perhaps not since the Civil War, where state officials were personally prosecuted for carrying out ministerial functions under state law,” Spitzer wrote.

Gregoire, citing federal threats, has indicated she’s likely to veto legislation approved by lawmakers that seeks to clarify the state law by authorizing state licensing and regulation over medical marijuana production and sales.

Back in Spokane, police spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe said city officers are assisting federal agents in a support role involving marijuana dispensaries, but that she had no further information.

The raids came as marijuana advocates were hosting a Spokane training session for dispensary operators on how to deal with law enforcement raids. The training session, being conducted at the downtown Spokane Public Library, was interrupted by the announcement that raids were under way.

Watch for continuing updates on this developing story and for complete coverage in Friday’s edition of The Spokesman-Review.


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