Drug Law

Tacoma Backs Off Closing Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

| by NORML
By "Radical" Russ Belville

(Seattle Times) A showdown between the city of Tacoma and eight marijuana dispensaries was averted Tuesday after both sides called on the state Legislature to spell out more clearly how medical-marijuana patients can legally access the drug if they don’t grow it themselves.

The city’s business-licensing office, acting on advice from its attorneys, last week threatened to put the dispensaries out of business if they continued to provide medical marijuana to more than one patient. Doing so runs counter to state law, said Jodie Trueblood, the city’s tax and license manager.

A growing number of cooperatives and small companies have cropped up in Western Washington over the past year or so, supplying cannabis to patients by designating themselves as “caregiver” for the time it takes to give the pot and collect a “donation.”

Whether a caregiver can supply only one person or one person at a time in succession is a question that has created problems for patients and law enforcement, which has to determine whether someone is a legitimate caregiver or a drug dealer.

And that is the problem – we force our law enforcement to have to determine whether someone is healthy enough to arrest for using cannabis.  If he’s sick, the guy selling him weed is a “caregiver”; if he’s healthy, the guy selling him weed is a “drug dealer”.

The loophole in question is found in Washington State’s definition of a caregiver’s immunity from prosecution:

RCW 69.51A.040 (4)(e) Be the primary caregiver to only one patient at any one time.

OK, so I run a retail outlet.  Suppose I have five employees.  Each one of us has been designated a caregiver by five patients.  Washington law allows us to have a “60 day supply” for each of our patients, which the legislature determined was 24 ounces.  So our shop has 7.5 pounds of marijuana inventory.

Now I’m a caregiver for “Abe”.  I open the doors and “Bob” walks up to me.  ”Bob” asks me to be his caregiver, which I do, dropping “Abe”.  Now I’m legally caregiving for “Bob” and providing him medicine.  ”Bob” leaves and “Cal” walks in.  I drop “Bob” and now I’m caregiving for “Cal”.  Later, “Abe” walks in, I drop “Cal” and pick up “Abe” as a patient.  At no time have I ever been a caregiver for more than one patient at any one time.

If “Bob” and “Cal” came in together and asked me to supply both of them, that would be illegal.

If you’re reading this and thinking, “what a ridiculous interpretation – of course you’re caregiving for multiple people!” then you haven’t met many creative defense attorneys like I have.  The law is clear; it does not say “Be the primary caregiver to only one patient that day.”

Aside from the literal interpretation of “at any one time”, there is the practical matter of 40,000 patients in the Puget Sound area who may possess and use marijuana medicinally, but have no legal method but growing it themselves or with help to get marijuana.  

If they aren’t served by legal caregivers with storefronts that can be secured, inspected, and regulated, then they will be served by black market dealers who face none of those standards.  We either legalize dispensaries or we create a massive subsidy of vulnerable customers for drug dealers.