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Medical Marijuana Co-Op Opens in Downtown Bellingham

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BELLINGHAM - The city's first medical marijuana storefront opened downtown Friday, April 1, but the prosecutor's office says it's breaking the law.

Northern Cross medical marijuana co-op opened Friday at 1311 Cornwall Ave., as a place where patients whose doctors have recommended marijuana can go to find the drug.

While legislation is in place that allows patients to grow and use marijuana for medical reasons, places that dispense marijuana to those patients are not authorized by the law in Washington.

"At this point they would be operating a place that would have some real potential legal problems," said Mac Setter, chief criminal deputy for the Whatcom County Prosecutor's Office. "The first thing I'll do is call the Bellingham Police Department and ask them to stop by and talk to them about this. It's a violation of the law, and we'll enforce violations of the law."

When contacted Thursday, April 7, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark Young hadn't heard about the co-op, and Chief Todd Ramsay didn't return a call for comment.

Northern Cross owner Martin Nickerson said he has been involved with medical marijuana issues for more than a decade. Manager Michael Briceno said they didn't talk with the prosecutor's office before opening, but they have been working with lawyers who specialize in medical marijuana co-ops. They were told that two of the three judges in Bellingham didn't take action on cases like theirs, but they also understand the risk.

"Laws are important, but what about ethics?" Briceno said. "Someone's got to step out there and take a stand for these patients. If we're not going to do it, who will? We're prepared to do whatever it takes to lawfully, safely give people what they need."

This is how the co-op works:

The co-op has a lobby that is walled off from the area where the marijuana is kept. Customers can go up to the window and give their medical marijuana authorization and identification. A volunteer then calls the doctor to confirm that the customer is authorized. The volunteer from the co-op then becomes that customer's designated provider, and the customer has access to nearly 20 varieties of marijuana for a suggested donation price, which is competitive with street prices. The shop also sells bongs and pipes.

It's the designated provider aspect of the dispensary that seems to be in a legal gray area. Medical marijuana patients who can't grow for themselves are allowed to find a designated provider, but that person can provide for only one patient. At the dispensary, volunteers work with one patient at a time, but that patient probably isn't the only person they work with throughout the day.

"The law is up for interpretation, but the interpretation that I think is the mainstream one is that one person can be a designated provider for one patient, period," said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the Washington State Department of Health. "You can't provide for me for 15 minutes and then become another person's provider for 15 minutes."

Medical marijuana has been a complex issue for Washington state, said Philip Dawdy, spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association. He hopes that a bill now in the Legislature will clarify the issue for dispensaries throughout the state.

"If the state wants the people to be able to have this medication, then they should also have places where they can have access to it," Briceno said. "That seems ludicrous to appear to be compassionate and at the same time deny them access in the easiest, most responsible, safest way possible."

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: thenewstribune.com
Author: Zoe Fraley
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Website: Medical marijuana co-op opens in downtown Bellingham
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