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Medical Marijuana Dispensary Opens in Kettle Falls

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A new business that has opened in Kettle Falls is pitting medical marijuana providers against agencies tasked with enforcing the law.
Natural Alternatives Medical Marijuana Provider (M.M.P.) is a new medical marijuana dispensary located behind the liquor store in Kettle Falls that owner and operator, Ginny Thiede, says is interested in serving “medical clients only.”
“People who want to use it recreationally will have to go somewhere else,” she said.
Thiede, a 35-year resident of the area, said she verifies that her clients are legally authorized by a physician to use medical marijuana by asking for a signed doctor’s letter.
“This is not a head shop,” she said. “It is important that people understand why we are here.”
Before opening Natural Alternatives M.M.P., Theide worked as a bookkeeper for a Spokane medical marijuana dispensary, Club Compassion.
Thiede said she has been careful to “do it right” when opening the Kettle Falls dispensary, including obtaining a Master Business License from the State of Washington and registering with the state Department of Revenue.
She also petitioned the City of Kettle Falls for a business license that was granted.
Kettle Falls Mayor Dorothy Slagle said she was advised by the city attorney that they could not deny the business a license at this time.
“A city business license is really more of a business registration that helps the city keep track of businesses,” she said. “Since the state had already granted them a business license, we really didn’t have a leg to stand on to deny them a license.”
City of Kettle Falls attorney Pat Monasmith said because the city does not currently have any provisions for denying a business license, they did not have a legal basis to deny the dispensary.
Currently, the city’s business license application process involves filling out a form and paying a fee to the city clerk. No city ordinances describe how or when a business may be denied a license and therefore there is no legal basis for denial, Monasmith explained.

Not legal to law enforcement

However, business licenses do not necessarily make the dispensary legal in the eyes of local law enforcement.
Kettle Falls Police Chief Scott Sterland said that he has advised Thiede that the law does not currently make provisions for dispensaries.
“State law on medical marijuana allows for a ‘designated provider’ to supply Medical marijuana to patients who have been authorized by a physician to use the drug,” said Sterland, referring to RCW 69.51A. “The provider may supply one patient at any one time. A dispensary is supplying numerous patients. Also, state law does not make provisions for mass growing operations or for transport of medical marijuana.”
Sterland said the Kettle Falls City Police cannot just walk in and shut the dispensary down.
However, there is no legal provision for the city police to go into the store to determine if they are, in fact, breaking the law.
“These things take time to develop and we don’t want to charge in and have a case that falls apart in court,” he said.
However, dispensaries are currently justifying their operation through the “one patient at a time” wording in the RCW 69.51A.010.
Thiede and one of her Spokane counterparts, Rhonda Duncan at Club Compassion, said the dispensaries interpret the law to mean the dispensaries can supply one person at a time.
“If we take the one provider, one person wording literally, it means we would need to have 8,000 grow operations in Spokane alone to meet the need,” said Duncan. “We self-regulate and orientate ourselves to the needs of the patient, not the law.”

An issue of ‘tolerance’?

Duncan said she doesn’t want patients who need medical marijuana to be “looking for it in the streets” and said this issue is not about legality, it is about tolerance.
“The law is a gray area right now, so it is not an issue of what is legal, it is an issue of if Stevens County will tolerate it,” she said.
However, tolerance is unlikely from local law enforcement officials, who feel Thiede, Duncan and others are subverting the state laws.
“We will let the City of Kettle Falls take the action in this situation, but the law limits both the quantity a person can possess at 24 ounces or 15 plants in order to be a provider,” said Stevens County Sheriff Kendle Allen. “The biggest problem we have now is people getting medical marijuana prescriptions for hangnails. The legislature really needs to nail down the provisions for people who need it, but right now any Joe Blow who wants to smoke a doobie can get a medical marijuana card.
“The dispensaries are reading the law the way they want to see it.”
Stevens County Prosecutor Tim Rasmussen shares Chief Sterland and Sheriff Allen’s concerns and says a legal precedent was recently set for the illegality of dispensaries via the conviction of Scott Shupe in Spokane.
Scott Q. Shupe started one of the first medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane, the Change dispensary, and was convicted earlier in March on felony charges of possession of marijuana with intent to distribute, as well as delivery and manufacture of marijuana. Shupe said he sold 10 pounds of marijuana a week to 1,280 patients.
Rasmussen noted those running dispensaries are taking a legal gamble.
“There are some people who want to take a chance and some who don’t,” he said.
Some Washington dispensaries have taken a gamble and appear to be winning on the patchwork application of the law in Washington’s 39 counties.
Last week, a jury in Yakima acquitted Valtino Hicks of charges of possession with intent to deliver, even though Hicks has a criminal history that includes drug-related convictions and was allegedly in possession of 201 marijuana plants, far over the 15 plant medical marijuana limit.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg told the Seattle Times in a March 24 article that he believes “dispensaries are legal and necessary” to help patients.
The only thing that will clear up the numerous interpretations of the medical marijuana laws is more specific wording from the state legislature.
A bill is currently circulating that would create new regulations for producers, processors and cannabis dispensaries. Senate Bill 5073 passed the Senate and is awaiting passage in the House of Representatives this session.
The bill would require the dispensaries to register with the state Department of Health, would continue to prohibit providers from converting the cannabis to personal use, and would require healthcare professionals to have a documented relationship with the patient that shows a terminal or debilitating medical condition.

Still illegal to feds

However, even if state law clarifies the provisions for medical marijuana and makes dispensaries legal, medical marijuana will continue to be illegal under federal law.
The federal Controlled Substances Act does not recognize the difference between medical marijuana and recreational use and treats it as a “controlled substance” just like cocaine and heroin. Growers and distributors can be arrested and have their property seized by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
However, Thiede said she is “corresponding with the attorney general to find out everything we need to do to operate legally.”
“This is a real gray area, but I hope if we do it right the federal government will look more favorably on us,” she said.

News Hawk- Jacob Husky 420 MAGAZINE
Source: statesmanexaminer.com
Author: Jamie Henneman
Contact: Contact Us
Copyright: The Statesman-Examiner
Website: Medical marijuana dispensary opens in Kettle Falls
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