Pot Activists Offer "Raid Training" for Washington Marijuana-Dispensary Owners

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Earlier this month, federal prosecutors in both eastern and western Washington warned medical-marijuana dispensary owners that the Justice Department is planning to use "the full extent of our legal remedies" to shut down any of the budding businesses that run afoul of federal and state law. In response, two pro-pot activist groups are now offering "raid training" seminars to teach dispensary operators how to respond when the narcs eventually come knocking.

"It's having some planned response and some course of action as opposed to 'Oh, crap, I'm in jail, nobody cares, they've seized everything,'" says Ben Livingston of Seattle's Cannabis Defense Coalition (CDC). "If people are going to get raided, they have to have a plan."

The first lesson is scheduled to start tonight at 7 p.m. at the CDC's "Cannabis Resource Center" in SoDo. Livingston says he expects at least 40 people to attend the three-hour class, which will feature a presentation by Steph Sherer of the Washington D.C.-based Americans for Safe Access, a group founded nearly a decade ago in the wake of DEA raids of California pot dispensaries. Classes are open to the public and also scheduled for tomorrow in Spokane and Friday in Ellensburg.

Livingston says the presentation tonight will focus on media relations and establishing contingency plans for patients who rely on the pot suppliers for their medicine.

"Right now we're finding out that most people [who have been raided] have just sort of run away," Livingston says. "We're trying to plan a response and plan for patients. Down in California they have patients show up and protest the raid while it's happening."

As it stands now, marijuana dispensaries are technically prohibited under Washington law and expressly forbidden by federal drug regulations. Nevertheless, hundreds of dispensaries have sprung up in Seattle and other cities, with state and local law enforcement often turning a blind eye toward the businesses.

A bill that would reform Washington's policy on dispensaries, SB 5073, was passed earlier this month by the state legislature and needs only a signature from Gov. Christine Gregoire to become law. Gregoire, however, has stated that she may veto the bill because she fears state employees could face federal prosecution.

It's something of a Catch-22, as Attorney General Eric Holder has stated that as long medical-marijuana businesses (and presumably state employees) adhere to state laws, they have nothing to fear. But without a law making dispensaries expressly legal, a federal crackdown is still a very real possibility. That's why Livingston says the raid training is crucial.

"People think there's some 'green rush' happening and that's it's legal," Livingston says. "Neither of those is true. It's all in people's heads and eventually it's going to come to a startling end."

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