This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.
Tuesday’s bust of a Tacoma medical marijuana dispensary raised the usual chorus of protests from decriminalization advocates who accuse law enforcement of having misplaced priorities.
That’s absurd. Police, when presented with convincing evidence of illegal activity, have a duty to investigate. Pierce County is merely proving that it takes the restrictions of the state’s medical marijuana law seriously. Would that more communities did.
It’s for a judge and jury to decide how convincing the evidence is against the suspects arrested in Tuesday’s raid of North End Club 420 by the West Sound Narcotics Enforcement Team.
But, if true, the allegations against the club and its associates represent a clear departure from anything Washington voters had in mind when they legalized medical marijuana in 1998. Police had no choice but to intervene.
So-called patient “exchanges” themselves operate on the margins of the law, justifying their existence by liberally interpreting a provision that allows eligible patients to appoint a “designated provider.”
The law also says that designated providers can provide pot to only one patient at a time. Dispensaries argue “time” is a flexible term.
The claim strains credibility, but in many places, including Pierce County, law enforcement doesn’t pursue nonprofit exchanges that are acting as true co-operatives. What police go after – and should – are dispensaries that operate far outside the law by, for example, selling marijuana for profit and to unauthorized users.
That’s exactly what a police operative who allegedly bought pot several times from Club 420 members claims happened at the Tacoma operation. Narcotics investigators said the club – which purportedly exists to alleviate the suffering of sick patients – was selling marijuana for more than its street value.
Police pursue such cases for real public safety reasons. Large-scale medical marijuana operations pose many of the same dangers that any large-scale dope production poses. Illicit drugs and large quantities of cash inevitably attract violence and put communities in danger.
Many critics of Washington’s medical marijuana law, some prosecutors included, argue that it is ambiguous. The “one-patient-per-grower” arrangement is unworkable in some cases, and the alternative – reliance on informal networks of medical marijuana patients – invites corruption.
But an avenue exists for medical marijuana supporters who believe the current state law is too restrictive or murky – and that avenue isn’t testing the law’s limits in criminal courts.
Such beefs belong before the state Legislature or Washington voters, not the drug enforcers charged with making the best of an existing law.