March 25, 2011 in City

Supplier’s conviction sparks concern among medical marijuana advocates

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Aaron Hale smiles as a car honks in support of medical marijuana. Marijuana advocates protested outside of the federal courthouse in Spokane on Thursday. The group says they would like the city to reduce marijuana enforcement to its lowest priority.
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Marijuana advocates still reeling from last week’s conviction of a medicinal pot supplier in Spokane are stepping up the pressure.

Nearly three dozen demonstrators gathered Thursday outside of the federal courthouse in downtown Spokane, urging the removal of marijuana from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s list of drugs considered to have no medicinal value.

They also are circulating petitions asking Spokane Mayor Mary Verner to declare the sale of medical marijuana to doctor-approved users to be the lowest law enforcement priority in the city. Supporters say they’ve already gathered more than 1,000 signatures and hope to present them Monday night to the Spokane City Council.

“We’ll be out here as long as it takes,” said Rhonda Duncan, speaking through a megaphone at the Lincoln statue. “Please don’t let these medical marijuana patients suffer.”

Earlier this week, about a dozen medical marijuana advocates asked Spokane City Council members for support in achieving legal recognition for commercial dispensaries. State lawmakers are debating legislation that would regulate the production and sale of medical marijuana across Washington. Even if a bill wins approval, however, and is signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire, it likely would take months to take effect as state agencies draft rules for implementing its provisions.

Prompting the increased push for legal clarity was a Spokane County Superior Court trial last week. One of Spokane’s first medical marijuana dispensary operators, Scott Shupe, was convicted by jurors on drug-trafficking charges for selling marijuana to doctor-approved users. Drug investigators estimate there are about 40 medical marijuana dispensary operations in Spokane County.

Duncan, who owns the dispensary Club Compassion, said she’s worried federal agents may begin raiding medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane. Dispensaries in Montana were raided last week as part of a federal investigation.

Although U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has said federal authorities won’t prosecute medical marijuana cases that are complying with state law, Washington’s medical marijuana law is poorly crafted and ambiguous. Among other things, the state law contains no mention of commercial dispensaries, leading to differing interpretations over how medical marijuana users are to legally obtain marijuana.

“We’re trying to get the feds to notice that we want them to leave medical marijuana patients alone,” said Charles Wright, owner of the South Perry Street dispensary the THC Pharmacy. “They’re attacking the sick and dying.”


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