Pubdate: Fri, 08 Apr 2011
Source: Bellingham Herald (WA)
Copyright: 2011 Bellingham Herald
Author: Zoe Fralety
Bookmark: (Washington)


BELLINGHAM - The city's first medical marijuana storefront opened 
downtown Friday, April 1, but the prosecutor's office says it's 
breaking the law.

Northern Cross medical marijuana co-op opened Friday at 1311 Cornwall 
Ave., as a place where patients whose doctors have recommended 
marijuana can go to find the drug.

While legislation is in place that allows patients to grow and use 
marijuana for medical reasons, places that dispense marijuana to 
those patients are not authorized by the law in Washington.

"At this point they would be operating a place that would have some 
real potential legal problems," said Mac Setter, chief criminal 
deputy for the Whatcom County Prosecutor's Office. "The first thing 
I'll do is call the Bellingham Police Department and ask them to stop 
by and talk to them about this. It's a violation of the law, and 
we'll enforce violations of the law."

When contacted Thursday, April 7, Bellingham Police spokesman Mark 
Young hadn't heard about the co-op, and Chief Todd Ramsay didn't 
return a call for comment.

Northern Cross owner Martin Nickerson said he has been involved with 
medical marijuana issues for more than a decade. Manager Michael 
Briceno said they didn't talk with the prosecutor's office before 
opening, but they have been working with lawyers who specialize in 
medical marijuana co-ops. They were told that two of the three judges 
in Bellingham didn't take action on cases like theirs, but they also 
understand the risk.

"Laws are important, but what about ethics?" Briceno said. "Someone's 
got to step out there and take a stand for these patients. If we're 
not going to do it, who will? We're prepared to do whatever it takes 
to lawfully, safely give people what they need."

This is how the co-op works:

The co-op has a lobby that is walled off from the area where the 
marijuana is kept. Customers can go up to the window and give their 
medical marijuana authorization and identification. A volunteer then 
calls the doctor to confirm that the customer is authorized. The 
volunteer from the co-op then becomes that customer's designated 
provider, and the customer has access to nearly 20 varieties of 
marijuana for a suggested donation price, which is competitive with 
street prices. The shop also sells bongs and pipes.

It's the designated provider aspect of the dispensary that seems to 
be in a legal gray area. Medical marijuana patients who can't grow 
for themselves are allowed to find a designated provider, but that 
person can provide for only one patient. At the dispensary, 
volunteers work with one patient at a time, but that patient probably 
isn't the only person they work with throughout the day.

"The law is up for interpretation, but the interpretation that I 
think is the mainstream one is that one person can be a designated 
provider for one patient, period," said Donn Moyer, spokesman for the 
Washington State Department of Health. "You can't provide for me for 
15 minutes and then become another person's provider for 15 minutes."

Medical marijuana has been a complex issue for Washington state, said 
Philip Dawdy, spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association. He 
hopes that a bill now in the Legislature will clarify the issue for 
dispensaries throughout the state.

"If the state wants the people to be able to have this medication, 
then they should also have places where they can have access to it," 
Briceno said. "That seems ludicrous to appear to be compassionate and 
at the same time deny them access in the easiest, most responsible, 
safest way possible."  
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