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Two Tacoma dispensary owners file signatures to limit pot penalties


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Two medical-marijuana dispensary owners turned in about 4,200 signatures to the city Friday as part of a campaign to qualify a Tacoma ballot measure that would minimize prosecution of cannabis-related offenses.

"This shows there's a lot of community support, especially with patients who are already authorized to use medical cannabis," said Don Muridan, the owner of the Rainier Wellness Center.

Modeled after a 2003 Seattle law, Tacoma's Referendum 1 is aimed at making cannabis-related offenses "the lowest enforcement priority of the City of Tacoma."

Supporters must submit 3,858 valid signatures by July 5 to qualify the measure for the Nov. 8 ballot. City Clerk Doris Sorum said Friday she had received 343 pages of signatures on petitions that each contain space for 20 signatures. That would add up to 6,860 signatures, but not every petition had 20 signatures, she noted.

Sorum will send the signatures to the Pierce County Auditor's Office for validation Monday.

Supporters say they'll continue to collect more signatures until the deadline. Volunteers are expected to gather hundreds of them Saturday alone during Tacoma Hempfest — a celebration of all things cannabis in Wright Park.

But even as supporters pursue qualifying the measure for the ballot, they hope the issue won't have to go that far. They want the City Council to approve Referendum 1 as an ordinance before then.

"If they want to be leaders, they can simply make this law," said campaign supporter Sherry Bockwinkel. "If not, then we'll throw it onto the ballot. But this issue is not going to go away."

In hopes that this year's Legislature would clarify Washington's 1999 medical-marijuana law, the city postponed lingering appeals hearings for 30 cannabis dispensaries. All face losing city business licenses after a crackdown started last year that included one police raid and dozens of cease-and-desist letters.

State lawmakers did pass a measure this year calling for state-licensed dispensaries, but Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed most of it. Instead, the law she signed leaves dispensary regulation up to local jurisdictions.

The law takes effect July 22. A city conference call regarding the dispensaries' license cases is set for July 25.

In the meantime, city staff members are reviewing the issue, but no proposal is set to go before the council.

Councilman Ryan Mello said Friday that "there is energy and political will to do what we can at the local level," adding, "But I think there's still confusion about exactly what the council can do under state law."

Among dispensaries that face losing licenses is Muridan's Rainier Wellness Center on South Pine Street. The 45-year-old fencing company owner said he opened the nonprofit after he survived cancer in 2009. It now serves 1,300 patients.

"I was never a recreational (marijuana) user," said Muridan, who uses a hemp oil solution dropped under the tongue. "I was dealing with radiation and found this was something that helped with my nausea.

"I'm all for regulation," Muridan added. "But right now, we don't have any regulations. And what I fear is that a few bad apples out there are going to ruin it for all the legitimate businesses and all the patients who truly benefit from medical cannabis."


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Sad that this back to where were at again. Trying to decriminalize rather than legalize. But maybe we tried to move too fast and this is the best way to go.
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