Larry Hamilton, who has terminal cancer among a host of ailments, watched from his wheelchair in dismay Thursday as federal agents shut down THC Pharmacy, the South Hill dispensary that provided him with marijuana.
Hamilton, who undergoes chemotherapy, said he suffers without medical marijuana.
“It clears up the pain and it helps with the nausea,” he said. “It’s irritating. We passed a law in this state to make it legal.”
THC Pharmacy, 1108 S. Perry St., was one of several dispensaries raided throughout the day across Spokane on Thursday. A small band of protesters also gathered outside, 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 Evergreen Medical, 12004 N. Market St., Club Compassion, 1004 E. Bridgeport Ave., Human Connection, 5315 N. Market St., and Medical Herb Providers, 306 N. Freya St.
The U.S. attorney’s office sent dispensary operators notices earlier this month advising them to shut down or risk federal enforcement action. Many of the approximately 40 medical marijuana dispensaries reportedly complied, but not all.
Today’s action 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 dispensaries under its “caretaker” provision, but a Spokane County Superior Court jury rejected that argument last month in the first drug-trafficking trial of its kind 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.
Spokane police spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe said city officers assisted federal agents in a support role involving marijuana dispensaries.
The raids came as marijuana advocates were hosting a 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.
Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana research and advocacy group, called on dispensary operators at the training to exercise their rights if they are raided by not consenting to searches and declining to speak to authorities without a lawyer present.
“If you are growing medical marijuana, you are committing civil disobedience,” Sherer said to a room of about 40 people. “There are very real consequences.”
“Our opposition is moral opposition,” she said.
After the raids, a group of medical marijuana providers, users and advocates met at a Spokane law firm to discuss their plan of action. A national call to action will take place in cities across the U.S. Monday at noon, including in Spokane in front of the federal courthouse on Riverside Avenue.
“This is an opportunity to show that this did not shake you,” Sherer said.
She also implored advocates to organize and to meet with local, state and federal elected officials. Kris Hermes, spokesman with Americans for Safe Access, which tracks dispensary raids, said the federal government is “using the leverage of their enforcement tactics to intimidate elected officials to vote a certain way on impending medical marijuana bills,” such as the one Gregoire is expected to veto. There have been hundreds of raids in at least six states that allow medical marijuana, he said.
Tom Clouse contributed to this report