Washington State: Federal and local authorities raided at least 14 medical marijuana dispensaries in Pierce, Thurston and King counties Tuesday, targeting those they said were operating illegally.
Eighteen people were arrested, including a man who operated a dispensary in Tacoma and was on supervised release for a felony conviction.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle said the dispensaries weren’t following state guidelines and that some were laundering money and distributing large amounts of drugs, sometimes to people who were not patients.
“State laws of compassion were never intended to protect brash criminal conduct that masquerades as medical treatment,” U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
Search warrants served by the Drug Enforcement Administration were part of four ongoing investigations. The arrests in Thurston County were the culmination of a five-month investigation by the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force.
Law enforcement shut down five dispensaries in Pierce County, five in Thurston County and four in the Seattle area.
“The places we hit are not compliant with state law, so we initiated enforcement,” Pierce County sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. “There are facilities and people that are in compliance with the law that we did not hit.”
The locations raided had been warned they were out of compliance with changes to the medical marijuana law that took effect in July, Troyer said.
Guy Casey, who co-owned Club 420 in Tacoma, said law enforcement visited his business last month and he willingly showed them how he serves his patients.
Then agents busted into his dispensary about 11 a.m. Tuesday and served a search warrant accusing him of unlawfully possessing a controlled substance with intent to distribute and seized his medical marijuana, paraphernalia, patient records and computer.
“I had a feeling all this was going to happen,” Casey said. “We’d love to have some rules and do what we’re supposed to do, but stuff changes so fast and it’s open for interpretation.”
He said he’s unlikely to open Club 420 again.
Dispensaries in Puyallup, Parkland, Spanaway, Graham, Olympia, Lacey and Rochester also were hit.
Special Agent in Charge Matthew Barnes said the DEA targeted those who cultivated and sold marijuana while exploiting state medical marijuana laws “to satisfy their own personal greed.”
Attorney Jay Berneburg, who represents 30 dispensaries in Pierce County, said he will inspect the search warrants to see whether there was probable cause, then decide what to do next.
He, like many other local marijuana activists, expressed frustration with law enforcement focusing on medical marijuana dispensaries.
“The voters of Washington told our government to make marijuana its lowest priority,” Berneburg said. “The fed government apparently decided democracy doesn’t work.”
The state medical marijuana law changed several months ago after Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a bill that would have legalized and regulated dispensaries.
Since, many dispensaries have reorganized under a broad interpretation of the new law, which allows 45-plant “collective gardens.”
Aaron Pelley, an attorney in Seattle who works with the Cannabis Defense Coalition, said Tuesday’s busts, which also shuttered dispensaries in Pierce and King counties, will force legitimate medical marijuana patients to turn to the black market.
“It undermines the safety and the welfare of the community,” Pelley said of the busts.
Ben Livingston, a board member of the Cannabis Defense Coalition, said his organization was organizing a rally in protest of the raids.