DEA Delivers Menacing Letters to State-Compliant Seattle Businesses
SEATTLE, WA — After a several month long cease-fire, the War on Marijuana has reignited in Washington, with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ordering 11 Seattle-area medical marijuana dispensaries to shut down within 30 days.
Despite November’s voter-approved Initiative 502, which legalized marijuana for all adults 21 or over in the state of Washington, and 1998’s voter-approved Measure 692, which legalized medical marijuana in the state, the 11 dispensaries received letters from the DEA advising them that distribution of marijuana was illegal under federal law, and they were to cease operations within 30 days or risk having their properties seized under federal drug trafficking laws.
“The people of Washington have spoken,” says Kari Boiter of the Washington Chapter of Americans for Safe Access. “An overwhelming number of voters say cannabis is not a crime, particularly if you are seriously ill. Yet the Feds continue to threaten patients and caregivers with civil and criminal penalties. Is this how they will treat the I-502 industry?”
The Washington State Liquor Control Board is currently moving forward with a plan to tax and regulate marijuana for recreational purposes, with sales authorized for adults 21 or older, including plans to issue state licenses to marijuana producers, processors and distribution centers.
It was unclear why the 11 dispensaries were singled out, but owners of several of the targeted dispensaries owners say they are in full compliance with all local and state laws.
“These collectives have worked extensively with the city and state to ensure compliance,” said Rachel Kurtz, an attorney representing several targeted dispensaries. “The letters from the DEA make no distinction between legitimate licensed businesses and those who have made no effort to obey state and local laws.”
“We strictly followed Washington’s medical marijuana law,” says Arasp Khoshkhoo, a dispensary owner. “We had business licenses from the City of Seattle and the State of Washington. We paid our taxes. We did everything any other legitimate business would do.”
“I would love for the DEA to come out here and take a look,” said Douglas Gerdes, owner of The Only Natural, who received a letter on Tuesday. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”
“These letters suggest that if my clients remain in business, they could lose their companies, their homes, their cars, basically every piece of property that the Feds consider an asset,” says Seattle attorney Kurt Boehl, who represents three of the affected dispensaries, including Wallingford’s Truly Helpful Collective.
Seattle DEA spokesperson Jodie Underwood says the letters, which were sent Monday, are identical to ones mailed last summer to more than two dozen dispensaries in the area, which reference federal drug sentencing laws that increase penalties for drug offenses located within 1,000 feet of a school, park or “other sensitive location.”
Underwood added that the letters “have nothing to do with Washington state law.”
State Representative Roger Goodman (D – Kirkland), a supporter of medical marijuana, called the move another “shot across the bow” of Washington’s pot laws by the DEA and the federal government.
Goodman also pointed out there is no state or federal law governing how close a medical marijuana dispensary can be from a school, even though the DEA letters reference the businesses are being targeted for being “within 1,000 feet of an educational facility.”
Neither Washington or Seattle prohibits dispensaries from operating within 1,000 feet of a school or park. Due to the city’s dense population, almost every business in the city — marijuana or otherwise — is located within 1,000 feet of a school or park.
Nonetheless, some dispensary owners were proactive in ensuring that their businesses were located more than 1,000 from a school nonetheless, in an attempt to be over-compliant, respectable business owners. But that didn’t matter to the DEA.
“When I opened my shop in Shoreline, the city measured the distance between my front door and the school down the street,” says Laura Healy of now-closed Green Hope Patient Network, targeted last summer by the DEA. “The city said I was 1,058 feet from the nearest school, but the letter from the Feds said I was within a thousand-foot school zone.”
Healy, who closed her dispensary and did not re-open in another location, now works for the Washington chapter of Americans for Safe Access, a medical marijuana patient advocacy organization.
At least one targeted dispensary owner has another ideas of their next move — full compliance with the DEA and federal medical marijuana law.
“I’ll probably go underground, break the law and do what it looks like the Feds want me to do,” said one targeted dispensary owner. “Be a black-market dealer, sell to anyone, and not pay my taxes.”