South Sound law enforcement officers busted a Tacoma medical marijuana dispensary and arrested two men Tuesday, alleging the group was selling pot to make money and to people unauthorized to buy it.
The West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team, a multi-agency task force focused primarily on drug activity in Kitsap and Mason counties, executed three search warrants Tuesday.
Two warrants were served in Tacoma – one at the office of the North End Club 420 on Oregon Avenue and the second at a home on South Seventh Street. The third warrant was served at an Olalla home where officers found more than 70 pot plants.
The warrants were served at the two houses in connection with the investigation of Club 420.
The club is one of three newer exchanges for medical marijuana patients in Tacoma. It went online Dec. 1 and in early February started renting space in an office building near the 38th Street bridge over Interstate 5, the group told The News Tribune.
“We help patients establish safe legal grows, teach patients how to maintain their gardens, provide quality genetics, and even help provide cannabis for patients waiting to harvest,” the group wrote on its website.
“We are NOT here to reap incredible financial rewards from the pain and suffering of patients and the legal disadvantages built into the current legislation. We got together because, as patients, we found we had no one to turn to for help, except one another.”
Narcotics investigators allege the founders of the club and others were involved in illegally growing and distributing pot “for the purpose of financial gain.”
“The club appears to be making thousands of dollars in unreported tax-free income from selling drugs to persons who may not qualify and profiting from taking advantage of those who have a legitimate and authorized medical need to use marijuana,” according to a statement released by the narcotics team.
Under Washington law, people with certain “debilitating or terminal illnesses” can, with a doctor’s approval, possess a limited amount of marijuana for medical use. Authorized patients can tend to their own plants, though there is no legal source of seeds or seedlings.
In addition, someone can grow and provide marijuana for one person at any one time. State law keeps buying and selling marijuana illegal.
The narcotics team began investigating Club 420 in January after receiving a tip from a confidential informant, said Lynelle Anderson, spokeswoman for the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, which has a member on the narcotics team.
“The informant said this is where they were able to buy from,” she said.
A police operative bought pot several times from club members despite not having a doctor’s authorization for medical marijuana, investigators said.
The buys were conducted in “a manner that clearly indicates the organization is selling marijuana to multiple persons at a price which is even higher than it would cost to purchase on the street,” according to the narcotics team.
Law enforcement investigators do not routinely conduct undercover operations at established exchanges for medical marijuana patients, Anderson said.
“Not unless there is clear evidence they are not complying,” she said.
Anderson said Tuesday’s enforcement activity was not connected to the homicide investigation of Michael Howard, a 38-year-old medical marijuana patient attacked at his Orting-area home March 9 during a possible robbery attempt.
Howard was hit in the head and died four days later. He had been growing 150 marijuana plants on the property at the time. No arrests have been made in connection with Howard’s death, and the homicide remains under investigation.
The two men arrested Tuesday were booked into the Pierce County Jail on drug manufacturing, possession and distribution-related allegations.
They have not been charged in the case.
The narcotics team is comprised of drug investigators from Poulsbo, Bremerton, Port Orchard and Shelton police departments, Mason and Pierce county sheriff’s departments, the Washington State Patrol and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
The team is funded by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268 firstname.lastname@example.org blog.thenewstribune.com/crime