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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pot law to get court test

Prosecutor, defense at odds over intent of medical marijuana rule

A legal showdown over Washington’s medical marijuana law is taking shape in Spokane.

At issue is a provision in the voter-approved law that allows caretakers to supply up to 1.5 pounds of marijuana at a time to those with state-issued medical marijuana cards.

Some medical marijuana advocates believe that allows them to lawfully supply one patient at a time. Spokane County prosecutors say the provision limits each caretaker to just one patient – period.

The case of a medical marijuana advocate charged with seven drug-related felonies illustrates a debate about a law prosecutors and pot advocates say is confusing.

Police raided Darren J. McCrea’s home last year after a months-long investigation triggered by a tip that McCrea, the founder of the medical marijuana support group SpoCannabis, was “selling marijuana to anyone with a medical permit,” according to a probable cause affidavit.

On Monday, nearly a year and a half after detectives found 5 pounds of marijuana and $32,000 in a safe in his north Spokane home, McCrea, 41, pleaded not guilty in Spokane County Superior Court to seven charges: five counts of delivery of a controlled substance and single counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver and manufacture of a controlled substance.

The five people McCrea is accused of selling marijuana to have Washington medical marijuana cards, as does he. At issue is how the law defines caretakers permitted to provide marijuana to patients.

“It’s created a great deal of confusion and more questions than answers,” said Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor John Grasso.

Grasso said the law allows caretakers to provide marijuana to one person only. McCrea’s lawyer, David Miller, noted in court that the statute states a caretaker can provide to one person “at a time.”

Owners of medical marijuana dispensaries use that interpretation to justify their businesses; Grasso has said he thinks businesses such as Change, on Northwest Boulevard, are illegal. The state Department of Health Web site says the dispensaries are illegal, too, saying the law allows a supplier to supply just one person.

Change co-owner Scott Shupe is facing felony drug charges in Oregon after police found 4 pounds of marijuana in his vehicle during a traffic stop two weeks ago. Shupe considers himself a caretaker for the more than 1,000 people who have bought marijuana at Change, which should allow him to have a pound and a half of marijuana per customer, he says. Even so, Oregon doesn’t recognize Washington medical marijuana licenses.

McCrea bristles when compared to for-profit businesses such as Change. SpoCannabis is a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping medical marijuana patients safely obtain their medicine, he said.

But prosecutors don’t go after all medical marijuana patients, Grasso said. He’s seen many cases involving one person growing or supplying marijuana to one medical patient.

“We’re not filing against those people,” Grasso said. “Our interpretation is if you are selling marijuana to more than one patient you are not in compliance.”

Friends and SpoCannabis volunteers attended McCrea’s arraignment Monday to show support for a man they described as a hero.

“Darren provides support and education for people like me,” said Steven Delgado, a cancer patient. “I almost feel like I’m on trial.”