Tacoma pot providers vow to fight city shutdown

The city has ordered eight medical marijuana dispensaries in Tacoma to shut their doors by Saturday, sparking outrage among patients and providers and plans for an impromptu rally to show they won't go quietly.

In a three-paragraph letter dated Oct. 14, Tax and License Manager Jodie Trueblood tells the businesses that dispensing medical marijuana to more than one patient is illegal in Washington state and outlines possible penalties if dispensaries don’t comply.

Their business licenses will be revoked, fines and penalties might be forthcoming and criminal prosecution isn’t out of the question, according to the letter.

Dispensary workers said Monday that they were taken aback when they received the letters Friday and that they plan to appeal. Some have already.

In the meantime, they say, hundreds have been mobilized for a rally before today’s City Council meeting. If they’re unsuccessful in getting their item on the council’s agenda, then they plan to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.

“I’m going to spend every last dime I have in this fight,” said Emiel A. Kandi, director of C.O.B.R.A. Medical Group. “We have done nothing to deserve this.”

Updates were posted on Facebook pages urging people to attend the meeting, and many dispensary employees e-mailed the letter to their patients.

Philip Dawdy, vice chairman for Sensible Washington, estimated that Tacoma’s dispensaries provide medicine for more than 10,000 patients in the area.

“We want to get across the point that this is a very important issue to a lot of people and if the city follows through with trying to close these places down, they’ll be cutting 10,000 people off from their medication,” he said.

The conflict has arisen because the state law on medical marijuana is vague and each side interprets it differently.

City officials say the law allows a one-on-one relationship between patient and provider, meaning someone authorized to grow a limited amount of marijuana can do so only for a single patient.

Providers believe officials are ignoring the last three words of the law’s definition describing a designated provider as someone who supplies marijuana “to only one patient at any one time.”

“They’re saying we’re acting as a designated provider for more than one patient, which we are,” Kandi said. “But they’re reading half of (the law) and putting their finger over the other half of it so they don’t have to read it.”

Trueblood directed specific questions about the city’s stance to community relations manager Rob McNair-Huff. Both said the city attorneys had thoroughly researched the law and activity at the businesses before making a determination.

“It’s a question of whether it’s a one-to-one or a one-to-many, which is not allowed,” McNair-Huff said. He said he was unsure why it took so long for the city to make a decision. Some of the dispensaries have been open for about a year.

“I think it had taken some time for our legal staff to come to their conclusion in terms of the activities these businesses were doing,” McNair-Huff said.

Medical marijuana has been a hot topic in Tacoma since a dispensary – Club 420 – was raided in mid-May and two men arrested on a slew of drug-related charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.

After the raid, dozens of residents and businesses owners spoke passionately on the subject to the City Council. They expressed concern about wasting city resources and making it more difficult for patients to obtain medicine in a safe manner.

“My worry is for the people who are going to suffer from this,” said William Sandor, manager of Tacoma Cross. “I don’t think they want people getting their medicine on the street.”

He said 1,250 patients get medical marijuana at Tacoma Cross, many of whom have called in a panic wondering where they should get their medicine if the city shuts the dispensaries.

Although people in medical marijuana circles are whispering about the possibility of raids, police say they don’t plan on targeting innocent parties.

“We understand the spirit of the law,” said Lt. Shawn Stringer, who oversees the Police Department’s narcotics unit. “We are not targeting patients. We are targeting people who abuse the law who sell marijuana as a for-profit business and as a criminal enterprise.”

Stacia Glenn: 253-597-8653 stacia.glenn@thenewstribune.com