Class readies pot dispensaries for possible police raids

April 26, 2011

Joel Moreno, KOMO News

Local medical marijuana clubs got a crash course on how to handle police raids. The U.S. Department of Justice may soon increase enforcement, and dispensaries are getting ready in case officers come knocking.

Wednesday night's lesson: under the current law, no medical pot club is safe. Operators have no way to prevent a raid, but they can prepare for it.

"Part of building a community, to me, is making sure we take care of each other," said Steph Sherer with Americans For Safe Access.

Federal law prohibits marijuana use and providers of medical pot stand a real chance of serving prison time.

"The individuals who are providing this medication are putting themselves at great risk, and they are really heroes to our community," Sherer said.

Even dispensaries that follow state and local law sometimes get shut down. Sherer says there's no pattern to who gets raided, and patients and local operators don't always know where to turn.

"I think raid training is good for a lot of things because people don't know their rights. They are not aware of their rights," said medical marijuana patient Don Skakie.

For starters, dispensaries should pay their taxes and obey zoning laws and labor rules. If police show up anyway, the trainer says people should tell officers they don't want to be searched and only speak to ask for a lawyer.

"I would invoke my Miranda rights immediately, and then I would calm myself in the moment and know that that is a temporary situation," said medical marijuana activist Stephanie Bishop.

Sherer says dispensary operators also need to start a dialogue with elected leaders long before a raid ever occurs.

"Being in touch with your representatives and congressman is much more important, because that's how the laws will actually change," Skakie said.

"Very much like any other civil rights movement in this country, these individuals are making a commitment to break these laws because these laws are outdated," Bishop said.

The state Legislature passed a medical marijuana reform bill, but the governor may veto it because state workers could be forced to violate federal law.

A follow-up bill moving through the special session is trying to address these concerns.

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