Tacoma - Cat Jeter wants Tacoma city officials to know how people living and working in the city feel about medical marijuana, but her message needs more than mere words.
That’s why she created a Facebook page called “Tacoma PD leave medical marijuana dispensaries alone.” In the two weeks since she made the online page public, more than 900 people have become fans.
“I was so outraged; it was that or grab a sign and stand on the City Hall steps,” said the 54-year-old accountant and medical marijuana patient. “But there’s more power in leveraging the community.”
Her anger – and that of dozens of others who periodically post on the social networking page – originated with three warrants served last month at Tacoma Hemp Co., the dispensary owner’s home and the house of his landlord.
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The dispensary owner, Justin Prince, 38, was released on bail after pleading not guilty to charges of growing and selling marijuana. According to charging papers, his employees sold pot to people who did not have valid authorization for medical marijuana, as state law requires.
Prince was charged with unlawful delivery of a controlled substance, unlawful possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver, and unlawful manufacture of a controlled substance.
According to charging papers, undercover officers gained access to the Tacoma Hemp Co. dispensary four times, using phony medical marijuana approval forms and posing as patients.
A group of residents and business owners has accused Tacoma police of using unnecessary force to gain access to the homes linked to Prince, wasting taxpayer money and targeting some who have committed no crime.
Police say they are enforcing the law, perplexing as it might be to interpret, and that people are ignoring the core issue: The medical marijuana initiative voters passed in 1998 does not allow dispensaries.
“It’s not that I want to go after dispensaries,” said Lt. Shawn Stringer, who oversees the Police Department’s narcotics unit. “We don’t create the law. We’re unfortunately stuck with trying to muddle our way through a law that’s very gray in a lot of areas.”
Under Washington law:
• People who obtain a doctor’s approval can have a limited amount of pot for medical use. (Buying and selling marijuana remains illegal.)
• Authorized patients can tend to their own plants, though there is no legal way to obtain seeds.
• A “designated provider” can possess no more than 15 marijuana plants and can service only one patient at a time.
Melissa Macourek’s house was one of the two police raided in late July. She is the landlord of Prince, whom police say they investigated because neighbors were complaining about a rise in crime after the business opened.
“The reason Tacoma Hemp Co. rose to our attention was that rather than supplying medication to patients who had legal prescriptions, they decided to use the law to open a drug dealership in the neighborhood,” Stringer said.
Macourek, a 37-year-old mother who teaches Pilates physical fitness, was arrested for trespassing at the home she rents to Prince. She said she was there to tend to a cat trapped in the basement without food or water.
Charges later were dropped, and police say they do not believe she is involved with illegally selling pot.
Macourek is a medical marijuana patient but says she had less than one-eighth of an ounce in her house when police came there to serve a warrant in connection with the investigation into Prince’s dispensary. She is upset over damage done to her home, which included a busted antique front door, and the officers’ disregard for her daughter’s artwork.
“If they had asked, I would have more than happily opened the door for them,” she said.
Before a recent City Council meeting, Jeter used the Facebook page to encourage people to attend and express their feelings on the hot button topic.
Ten people spoke during public comment that night, lambasting the Police Department and asking council members to protect licensed users who rely on marijuana to ease their pain.
No city officials responded during the meeting, but afterward Councilman Ryan Mello shook hands and spoke briefly with some who lingered.
“We should create a safe and orderly way for people to gain access to medically required marijuana to treat really significant chronic illness,” he said later by telephone. “That seems incredibly logical for me.”
Mello said he has requested a meeting with Police Chief Don Ramsdell to discuss the department’s perspective on the issue.
Though nothing is officially planned, Mello said the city needs to make decisions about laws regarding dispensaries.
“The Tacoma municipal code is silent on the issue,” he said.
Aura Mae, who owns Azarra Salon and Wine, spoke briefly to the council about her concerns as a small-business owner.
“My message is that the use of resources, which are so scarce, for this type of work seems silly,” she said. “We would be better off using these resources to investigate things that are more of a danger to the community.”
Mae is offended that Prince’s home was raided. She points out that the city issued him a business license and that if she were suspected of selling alcohol to a minor, her license might be revoked but her home would not be raided.
Although she understands that the law regarding medical marijuana can be interpreted several ways, Mae said she hopes the city clearly states its position to avoid similar situations.
Stacia Glenn, 253-597-8653 firstname.lastname@example.org