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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Medical marijuana dispensary owner faces drug charges

Detectives say business violates law

Paul Ellis sold medical marijuana from this Spokane Valley strip mall until he was busted by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office recently. In the window is reflected a Washington State Patrol  office.  (Jesse Tinsley)

A Greenacres man who operated a medical marijuana dispensary about 100 feet from a Washington State Patrol office could face felony drug charges in the latest example of Spokane County’s tough stance on the confusing voter-approved law.

Paul E. Ellis, 52, was described by detectives as eager and talkative when they approached him at his dispensary, Med Mar Dis, at 7604 E. Sprague Ave., last month. He showed them his marijuana, explained how he tracks his transactions with about 200 customers and invited them to his home to see his marijuana crop.

The detectives accepted his invitation – then contacted Spokane County Deputy Prosecutor John Grasso, who has long argued that anyone distributing medical marijuana to more than one patient is violating state law. Marijuana advocates disagree.

A Spokane County Sheriff’s Office team searched Ellis’ home and business this month and seized fresh marijuana, seeds and 179 marijuana plants. He was not arrested but could face drug charges. His case is being reviewed by the prosecutor’s office.

Ellis declined to comment when a reporter stopped by his home Tuesday afternoon, but detectives said he was so eager to tell them about his business in August that it was difficult to keep him “on one topic at a time due his talkativeness,” according to a search warrant.

According to the warrant, Ellis asked Washington State Patrol Sgt. Dave Bolton last spring if he could use state labs to test his marijuana for contaminants.

Bolton already was familiar with the business – he’d notified the Sheriff’s Office after it opened across from his office on East Sprague Avenue. He’d been monitoring activity there since late December, but sheriff’s officials said prosecutors were waiting for the resolution of criminal charges brought against two dispensary owners in Spokane last summer.

Then in early August, Spokane Valley Police Chief Rick Van Leuven told Sgt. Brett Gores of several complaints from citizens about Ellis’ business. Detectives stopped by the dispensary on Aug. 9 and met with Ellis, who “told us in great detail how he just wanted to help people and other dispensaries in towns were crooks and should not be allowed to operate,” according to the search warrant.

Detectives counted 211 customers in his business records. Ellis said he makes about $200 to $500 per day selling marijuana and said he hoped to get a large warehouse to grow and sell marijuana, according to the search warrant.

Ellis also repeatedly invited the detectives to his home to see his marijuana plants. They counted about 220 when they arrived at 18925 E. Riverside Ave. on Aug. 10. A team from the Sheriff’s Office raided the home and dispensary on Sept. 2.

Local police and prosecutors consider anyone distributing marijuana to more than one authorized patient to be violating Washington’s voter-approved law, which allows for distribution to one person “at any one time.”

Dispensary operators in Spokane say the law allows for them to distribute to as many people as they want so long as transactions are separate.

Ellis’ case is similar to that of the Spokane medical marijuana dispensary Change. A Spokane Police Department investigation began when a drug detective saw a TV news report in which dispensary owner Scott Q. Shupe said “that he grows, possesses and sells marijuana and that ‘it’s all perfectly legal,’ ” according to court documents.

Shupe and dispensary co-owner Christopher P. Stevens were arrested after a police raid in September 2009.

Both are charged with felony distribution of a controlled substance in a case Spokane police said they hope will clarify the state’s medical marijuana laws. Their trials are scheduled to begin Sept. 27.