Pot dispensers enter pleas

WEDNESDAY, AUG. 10, 2011

Four face up to 20 years in prison for selling medical marijuana

Four men facing federal prison time for operating medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane appeared in federal court Tuesday afternoon and pleaded not guilty to all charges.

Charles Wright and Jon Vivian, former owners of the THC Pharmacy on South Perry Street, and Jerry Laberdee and Dennis Whited, former owners of Medical Herb Providers, appeared in front of U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno.

Several of the defendants apparently learned of the hearing Tuesday morning from a television news reporters, said Jessica Nuna, a friend of the accused who was at the hearing. The prosecution acknowledged summons were sent, but that the defendants had not received them. It is unclear why the summons never made it, but all the defendants were present for the hearing.

None are currently in custody and all were allowed to leave after the Tuesday hearing.

Wright and Vivian pleaded not guilty to distributing marijuana near a school, possession with intent to distribute marijuana near a school and manufacture of marijuana near a school. The charges each carry a minimum penalty of one year, and not more than 10 years.

They were also charged with maintaining a drug-involved premise near a school, which carries a prison term of one year and not more than 20 years.

Laberdee and Whited pleaded not guilty to distribution of marijuana, which carries a penalty of up to five years imprisonment; manufacture of marijuana, which carries a sentence of five to 40 years in prison; and maintaining a drug involved premise, which has a maximum sentence of 20 years.

The penalties could also include hundreds of thousands in fines. The defendants also face a forfeiture of any property or proceeds that resulted from the alleged crimes.

The prosecution expressed concern about the potential for a conflict of interest resulting from the separate indictments because the accused know each other. However, Imbrogno did not issue a no-contact order between the defendants, who have many friends and family members in common. She admonished them to not speak with one another regarding the cases.

“I would suggest you take that very seriously,” she warned. “And I hope your friends and family members are hearing that, too.”

All the defendants were indicted by a federal grand jury July 20.

Federal authorities sent letters to the dispensary operators in April warning them they were in violation of federal laws and that they should close the shops immediately, despite Washington state law allowing the use of medicinal marijuana. Several dispensaries in Spokane disregarded that warning and some were raided several weeks later.

Among other conditions of their release, they cannot leave the eastern district of Washington without permission from the courts or possess firearms and must submit to random drug testing.

“You need to know your court dates and be here on time,” Imbrogno said of the conditional release.

Criminal defense attorney Doug Phelps was appointed to represent Laberdee. Wright and Whited will be appointed federal public defenders. Vivian will be appointed representation from another office because Wright is already being appointed a federal defender.


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