Duck and Cover
May 03, 2011
Keegan Hamilton, Seattle WeeklyEarlier this month, federal prosecutors in both eastern and western Washington warned medical- marijuana dispensary owners that the Justice Department was planning to use "the full extent of our legal remedies" to shut down any of the budding businesses that run afoul of federal and state law. In response, two pro-pot activist groups are now offering "raid training" seminars to teach dispensary operators how to respond when the narcs eventually come knocking. "It's having some planned response and some course of action as opposed to 'Oh, crap, I'm in jail, nobody cares, they've seized everything,' " says Ben Livingston of Seattle's Cannabis Defense Coalition (CDC). "If people are going to get raided, they have to have a plan."
The first lesson was scheduled for last Wednesday night at the "Cannabis Resource Center" in SoDo. Livingston expected at least 40 people to attend the three-hour class, which featured a presentation by Steph Sherer of the Washington D.C.-based Americans for Safe Access, a group founded nearly a decade ago in the wake of DEA raids of California pot dispensaries. Classes are open to the public and were also scheduled for Thursday in Spokane and Friday in Ellensburg.
Ironically, on that same Thursday when the CDC spoke in Spokane, DEA agents raided at least four medical-marijuana dispensaries, proving Livingston's point that, sooner or later, everyone gets paid a visit.
Livingston says the presentations will focus on media relations and establishing contingency plans for patients who rely on the pot suppliers for their medicine.
"Right now we're finding out that most people [who have been raided] have just sort of run away," Livingston says. "We're trying to plan a response and plan for patients. Down in California they have patients show up and protest the raid while it's happening."
As it stands now, marijuana dispensaries are technically prohibited under Washington law and expressly forbidden by federal drug regulations. Nevertheless, hundreds of dispensaries have sprung up in Seattle and other cities, with state and local law enforcement often turning a blind eye toward the businesses.
A bill that would have reformed Washington's policy on dispensaries, SB 5073, was passed earlier this month by the state legislature. But last Friday, Gov. Christine Gregoire used her line-item veto power to remove the bill's most substantial reforms, cutting provisions that would have legalized and regulated dispensaries.
It's something of a Catch-22, as Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that as long as medical-marijuana businesses (and presumably state employees) adhere to state laws, they have nothing to fear. But without a law making dispensaries expressly legal, a federal crackdown is still a very real possibility. That's why Livingston says the raid training is crucial.
"People think there's some 'green rush' happening and that's it's legal," Livingston says. "Neither of those is true. It's all in people's heads, and eventually it's going to come to a startling end."