Green Health is the name on the window of the former Key Center liquor store. According to the store’s volunteer manager, Lakebay resident Dave Norton, the store is a dispensary for medical marijuana operated by volunteers and supported by donations.
The building has been remodeled. “It had to be gutted and there are more new signs to come,” he says. A picture window affords a clear view into the building, and the certificates posted on the wall–a registration and license from Washington State and another certificate from the Secretary of State recognizing the formation of Green Health Dispensary, LLC. A large sign on the door advises there is no medicine or cash on the property over night. “Another six weeks and the building will be where we want it to be,” he says.
Norton, who is a qualified patient, says, “Only patients with verified documents can come into the store.”Verified documents come from medical records recommending the use of medical marijuana for a patient’s diagnosis. “There are many ways of taking it–liquid, capsules, cookies,” Norton says. “These products are carried as edibles for patients who don’t smoke.” At closing time, the building is emptied of product and money. “We leave nothing here in the building at night. We just feel we don’t want to bring crime in the area,” Norton says.
Determining whether medical marijuana is legal is difficult. The Washington State Department of Health website interprets the law as, “Marijuana possession is illegal in Washington.” That sounds like the answer is no. The website continues, “The medical marijuana law, Chapter 69.51A RCW, provides an affirmative defense for qualified patients and designated caregivers.” That’s a yes answer. Together they sound more like maybe. The bottom line for qualified patients and caregivers is the police can arrest you for possession; and the courts can defend you.
It helps to define terms like qualifying patient and designated caregiver. With regard to dispensaries, the DOH is clearly negative. “No. The law does not allow dispensaries. The law only allows qualifying patients and designated providers to possess medical marijuana.”
The DOH positions support the recent action taken by the Washington department of Tax and Licenses. The office sent notices to eight Tacoma dispensaries on Oct. 14 with the subject line: “Notice to Cease Dispensing Marijuana.”
On Oct. 19, medical marijuana supporters packed the Tacoma City Council to protest the action.
According to the Oct. 25 News Tribune online report, Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland headed off the controversy by proposing a suspension of the cease-and-desist action until the end of the 2011 state legislative session. They expect lawmakers to clarify the 1999 medical marijuana language. The Tacoma City Council agreed to allow established medicinal marijuana dispensaries to continue to sell to patients until state lawmakers clarify the law.
In response to the City Council attention, notices appeared on the window at the Key Center dispensary urging supporters to attend a peaceful protest rally at the Tacoma City Hall. “(The proponents of medical marijuana) are in a full court press hoping to influence the next state legislative session,” says Pierce County Sheriff’s legal advisor, Craig Adams. But he thinks waiting for lawmakers to clarify the law is a sticky wicket. “I would be surprised if they take up that issue (in the next session),” he says noting the significance of economic short falls on their agenda.
The Pierce County Sheriff office does not have a policy with regard to the medical marijuana law. “It is our belief that dispensaries are not in conformance with medical marijuana law,” says Adams. His interpretation that a caregiver may provide for one person at a time contradicts the dispensaries position. “They use a quick window of time. They dispense to one person one moment and another the next. I think the argument will fail,” he says. “I think we will wind up in court about it.” It is his opinion that providers working at dispensaries are betting on the validity of their argument. “That’s a road I wouldn’t go down,” he says. “Do I want to risk my freedom based on that?”
In the meantime, Dave Norton continues to serve as volunteer manager at Green Health and works 40 hours a week at his day job. He is convinced that medical marijuana is a good alternative to pharmaceutical narcotic drugs. He is concerned about public opinion, he is strict about verified documents, the appearance of the building is improving, and he allows no loitering on the premises. The dispensary is “not trying to get rich,” he says, “We do not believe in illegal activities. If you really want it, we can do it legally.”
Qualifiying patient: A qualifying patient must have formal written medial records on tamper resistant paper affirming that the patient may benefit from medical marijuana.
Designated caregiver: The caregiver must be at least 18, responsible for the housing, health, or care of the patient, and must be designated in writing by the patient. DOH adds, “A designated provider can only be a provider for one patient at any one time.” Both the patient and provider are restricted to a 60-day supply which is 24 ounces and 15 plants which sounds clear and quantifiable until DOH adds, “The law says that a patient may exceed these limits if he or she can prove medical need.