A Spokane jury rejected arguments Thursday that the state’s medical marijuana law allows for commercial dispensaries, convicting a supplier of multiple drug trafficking charges.
Scott Q. Shupe, who co-owned one of the first marijuana dispensaries in Spokane, argued the state’s medical marijuana law enables dispensaries to supply card-carrying patients, provided they serve just one patient at a time.
Prosecutors disputed that interpretation, arguing that the medical marijuana law, approved overwhelmingly by voters in 1998, makes no provisions for commercial dispensaries.
“I’m very happy with the verdict,” Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Teresa Border said. “It was a very difficult trial with a verdict that I think is appropriate.”
The case was being watched closely by authorities and dispensary operators alike, with both sides hoping that the jury would provide guidance for what many argue is a confusing state law.
In Olympia, where state lawmakers are contemplating various marijuana-related proposals, Gov. Chris Gregoire weighed in on the issue Thursday, saying she would seriously consider a proposed Senate plan to license and regulate medical marijuana growers and distributors but she’s uninterested in legalizing the drug.
In Spokane, Mayor Mary Verner said earlier this week that she supports medicinal use of marijuana, but she’s concerned about the rapid increase of dispensaries in Spokane neighborhoods. “I don’t want to have our community allow the cover of being in business for medical care to be really just a way to just dispense pot that otherwise would be illegal,” Verner said.
Defense attorney Frank Cikutovich said his client routinely kicked out patrons who tried to buy pot without proper authorization. He indicated the case will be appealed in an effort to clarify the language of the law.
“Their fate lies with the prosecutor’s decision whether or not to shut them down,” he said, referring to other dispensaries. “They want to be legitimate and give medicine to those who need it.”
Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor John Grasso, who heads his office’s drug unit, said his interpretation of the law allows a person holding a medical marijuana card to legally purchase the drug. But, the person selling that marijuana would be breaking the law.
Despite that view, commercial dispensaries have opened throughout the state under the argument – as was the case with Shupe – that they serve as a care provider, helping those with terminal illness or chronic medical problems to obtain the medicine they need.
Cikutovich argued unsuccessfully that the law allows dispensaries to essentially become the care provider for the limited time when they sell to each licensed marijuana card holder. Shupe testified he was selling 10 pounds of marijuana a week to 1,280 patients.
During each transaction, Shupe and his partners at the Change dispensary, 1514 W. Northwest Blvd., would write down the time of the transaction to note when they were providing the care through the sale of marijuana. Shupe also verified that each customer had a valid license for marijuana and double-checked those records with medical clinics that issued the authorization.
Pat Stiley, who is a law partner with Cikutovich, said he sat in during some of the jury selection. He noted that any prospective jurors who indicated they supported the legalization of marijuana were eliminated from the pool.
Those jurors who were seated all declined comment after convicting Shupe of the felony charges of possession with intent to distribute, delivery and manufacture of marijuana. Sentencing was set for April 12 before Superior Court Judge Tari Eitzen.
Local journalism is essential.
The journalists of The Spokesman-Review are a part of the community. They live here. They work here. They care. You can help keep local journalism strong right now with your contribution. Thank you.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.