Pubdate: Mon, 23 Aug 2010
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2010 Bellingham Herald
Author: Stacia Glenn


TACOMA: Patient upset with police arrests, raids

Cat Jeter wants Tacoma city officials to know how people living and
working in the city feel about medical marijuana, but her message
needs more than mere words.

That's why she created a Facebook page called "Tacoma PD leave medical
marijuana dispensaries alone." In the two weeks since she made the
online page public, more than 900 people have become fans.

"I was so outraged; it was that or grab a sign and stand on the City
Hall steps," said the 54-year-old accountant and medical marijuana
patient. "But there's more power in leveraging the community."

Her anger - and that of dozens of others who periodically post on the
social networking page - originated with three warrants served last
month at Tacoma Hemp Co., the dispensary owner's home and the house of
his landlord.

The dispensary owner, Justin Prince, 38, was released on bail after
pleading not guilty to charges of growing and selling marijuana.
According to charging papers, his employees sold pot to people who did
not have valid authorization for medical marijuana, as state law requires.

A group of residents and business owners has accused Tacoma police of
using unnecessary force to gain access to the homes linked to Prince,
wasting taxpayer money and targeting some who have committed no crime.

Police say they are enforcing the law, perplexing as it might be to
interpret, and that people are ignoring the core issue: The medical
marijuana initiative voters passed in 1998 does not allow

"It's not that I want to go after dispensaries," said Lt. Shawn
Stringer, who oversees the Police Department's narcotics unit. "We
don't create the law. We're unfortunately stuck with trying to muddle
our way through a law that's very gray in a lot of areas."

Under Washington law:

* People who obtain a doctor's approval can have a limited amount of
pot for medical use. (Buying and selling marijuana remains illegal.)

* Authorized patients can tend to their own plants, though there is no
legal way to obtain seeds.

* A "designated provider" can possess no more than 15 marijuana plants
and can service only one patient at a time.

Melissa Macourek's house was one of the two police raided in late
July. She is the landlord of Prince, whom police say they investigated
because neighbors were complaining about a rise in crime after the
business opened.

"The reason Tacoma Hemp Co. rose to our attention was that rather than
supplying medication to patients who had legal prescriptions, they
decided to use the law to open a drug dealership in the neighborhood,"
Stringer said.

Macourek, a 37-year-old mother who teaches Pilates physical fitness,
was arrested for trespassing at the home she rents to Prince. She said
she was there to tend to a cat trapped in the basement without food or

Charges later were dropped, and police say they do not believe she is
involved with illegally selling pot.

Macourek is a medical marijuana patient but says she had less than
one-eighth of an ounce in her house when police came there to serve a
warrant in connection with the investigation into Prince's dispensary.
She is upset over damage done to her home, which included a busted
antique front door, and the officers' disregard for her daughter's

"If they had asked, I would have more than happily opened the door for
them," she said.

Before a recent City Council meeting, Jeter used the Facebook page to
encourage people to attend and express their feelings on the hot
button topic.

Ten people spoke during public comment that night, lambasting the
Police Department and asking council members to protect licensed users
who rely on marijuana to ease their pain.

No city officials responded during the meeting, but afterward
Councilman Ryan Mello shook hands and spoke briefly with some who lingered.

"We should create a safe and orderly way for people to gain access to
medically required marijuana to treat really significant chronic
illness," he said later by telephone. "That seems incredibly logical
for me."

Mello said he has requested a meeting with Police Chief Don Ramsdell
to discuss the department's perspective on the issue.

Though nothing is officially planned, Mello said the city needs to
make decisions about laws regarding dispensaries.

"The Tacoma municipal code is silent on the issue," he

Aura Mae, who owns Azarra Salon and Wine, spoke briefly to the council
about her concerns as a small-business owner.

"My message is that the use of resources, which are so scarce, for
this type of work seems silly," she said. "We would be better off
using these resources to investigate things that are more of a danger
to the community."

Mae is offended that Prince's home was raided. She points out that the
city issued him a business license and that if she were suspected of
selling alcohol to a minor, her license might be revoked but her home
would not be raided.

Although she understands that the law regarding medical marijuana can
be interpreted several ways, Mae said she hopes the city clearly
states its position to avoid similar situations.

"I want to make sure that reasonable practices are being upheld," Mae
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt