By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – On Wednesday, an individual with a valid “prescription” for medical marijuana could have gone to Green Health Chehalis to get it filled.
On Thursday, operator Brian Pfister said he was shutting his business down, after the real estate agent told him he was canceling the lease.
Lewis County Sheriff Steve Mansfield had informed Pete Bezy the building on the 1700 block of Bishop Road was subject to seizure under drug laws, Pfister said.
“It was written in the lease exactly what I did,” Pfister said. “But I don’t want the guy to lose his building.”
Pfister opened Green Health Tacoma about a year ago, he said, and then a similar enterprise in Key Center, a community on the Kitsap Peninsula, a few months later.
His goal, he said, was to serve more than 300 Lewis County residents who travel to his Tacoma shop to obtain medical marijuana; most of whom he says are terminally ill.
The 1998 Washington Medical Marijuana Act made it possible for certain qualifying individuals with an authorization from their doctor to possess or grow marijuana, yet it’s not legal to buy or sell and remains illegal under federal law.
Pfister’s organization is among several operating in Tacoma, as the city allows medicinal pot dispensaries to remain open while they wait for the state legislature to clarify the law, according to The (Tacoma) News Tribune.
However, in Lewis County, the sheriff and the prosecutor say they won’t tolerate any such thing.
Pfister met with Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer and Sheriff Mansfield about three weeks ago to tell them of his plans.
Mansfield told Pfister he would arrest him.
“Right now, what he wanted to do is against the law, regardless of what they do in Tacoma or Seattle,” Mansfield said.
The 48-year-old was very friendly and seemed very sincere, Mansfield said. But dispensaries are not allowed under state law and marijuana remains illegal under federal law, he said.
“When the law changes, my position changes, it’s that simple,” Mansfield said on Friday.
Pfister moved forward any way, knowing he would likely be arrested.
“I didn’t go into this expecting not,” Pfister said. “Once you have a couple of dying people crying to you, you tend not to care about getting locked up.”
Green Health is a non-profit and they accept donations but don’t sell medical marijuana, according to Pfister.
He intentionally kept the contents of the Bishop Road building sparse, knowing it was on the radar for a raid, he said.
He had one person there, to help patients with “edibles”, he said. That individual would take a patient’s name and call a doctor to verify the authorization, he said. He requires an original copy of the authorization with an original signature, he said.
Pfister has a state business license for Green Health Dispensary LLC, according to the Washington Department of Licensing.
Lewis County does not issue or require county business licenses, unlike some cities including Centralia which unknowingly gave a license earlier this year to Hub City Natural Medicine which was shut down by police last week.
Centralia police seized dried marijuana, various foods suspected of containing marijuana, as well the businesses’ computers on Wednesday evening. They arrested one man, Daniel J. Mack, 39, who said he was a volunteer dispensary worker.
The following evening, Centralia police went to the Mack’s Rochester residence and found more than 150 plants growing on his property, including in an underground growing operation.
Mack was charged Thursday with delivery of marijuana and other offenses. It’s not clear what other charges have been or may be filed following the seizures in Rochester.
The state medical marijuana law allows a patient or designated provider to possess up to a 60-day supply. Guidelines offered by the Washington State Department of Health say that’s defined as 24 ounces and 15 plants.
Centralia Police Department spokesperson Officer Chris Fitzgerald says a lot of people are ignorant about the law.
First of all, Fitzgerald says, it’s against the law to possess marijuana. The medical marijuana law provides for authorization – not a prescription – in certain circumstances, she said.
“It may be used as an affirmative defense, which may or may not help you out in court,” Fitzgerald said.
In some case, when Centralia officers come across a person who produces an authorization, they will seize the marijuana and refer the case for evaluation of any charges, she said.
In some cases when an individual is growing it, they take samples but not the plants, she said.
But dispensaries are a different story, according to Fitzgerald. The law says an individual may grow it for one patient, she said.
The stance in Chehalis is similar, according to Deputy Police Chief Randy Kaut.
For individuals, as long as they are staying within the law, they aren’t necessarily arrested at the time, he said.
“We’re trying to give the benefit of the doubt, unless we see obvious violations,” Kaut said.
Fitzgerald says a big problem is abuses of the authorizations.
Most of the time, the authorizations Centralia police come across are not valid, sometimes just a piece of paper that looks like it’s been photocopied several times, she said.
And, “We’ve made several arrests where people said they were cultivating it and said they had authorizations, but we caught them selling it.”
Read the state medical marijuana law here
Follow the legislative session here
SOME FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LAW
Q: Is medical marijuana legal in Washington? I’ve heard conflicting answers to this question.
A: Marijuana possession is illegal in Washington. The medical marijuana law, chapter 69.51A RCW, provides an affirmative defense for qualified patients and designated caregivers. People who qualify have a valid reason to possess a 60-day supply of marijuana. They may use that reason to defend against a legal action taken under Washington law. However, medical marijuana is not legal under federal law. There is no affirmative defense for people who are arrested or charged under federal law.
Q: How can I find out if I qualify to be a medical marijuana patient?
A: Talk to your doctor. The law includes a very specific list of qualifying conditions you must have before a doctor can recommend medical marijuana.
Q: What is a valid written recommendation?
A: Beginning June 10, 2010, a recommendation must be written on tamper-resistant paper. It must also include an original signature by the health care provider, a date, and a statement that says in the health care provider’s professional opinion the patient may benefit from the medical use of marijuana.
Q: How do I get medical marijuana? Can I buy it?
A: The law allows a qualifying patient or designated provider to grow medical marijuana. It is not legal to buy or sell it.
Q: How much medical marijuana can I have?
A: A qualifying patient or designated provider may have a 60-day supply of medical marijuana. A 60-day supply is defined as 24 ounces and 15 plants (WAC 246-75-010) The law says that a patient may exceed these limits if he or she can prove medical need.
Q: How do I become a designated provider?
A: A designated provider must be at least 18 years old and must be designated in writing by the qualifying patient. A designated provider can only be a provider for one patient at any one time.
Read more FAQ here
Source: Washington State Department of Health