The DEA sent three more letters to medical marijuana dispensaries last week, agency spokesperson Jodie Underwood confirms. The letters "strongly advised" the dispensaries to pay "prompt attention" to the fact that they were breaking federal law and directed them to shut down within 30 days. That makes 29 dispensaries the feds have so warned, including 23 facilities that got letters in late August and three a few weeks later.
The most recent letters were the exact same as the previous ones, according to Underwood. They notified the dispensaries that they had run afoul not only of the federal prohibition on marijuana but of laws that stipulate increased penalties for drug dealing within 1,000 feet of schools or other facilities catering to kids.
One dispensary that got a letter is Hypeherbally Holistic Health in Lynnwood. "We're going to comply within the 30 days," owner Justin Ruiz tells SW, but he's not closing the doors quite yet. "Our first concern is the patients," he says. "We need to tell everybody first."
John Davis, chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards & Ethics, a year-old trade group that is trying to promote standards in the medical marijuana industry, says he talked to the owner of another dispensary that got a letter last week: Seattle's Greenwood Alternative Medicine.
It is listed as closed on the online dispensary directory Weedmaps.com, and a message left on the facility's voice mail yesterday has not been returned.
Davis says he's having a hard time figuring out the "intent" of the letters. He is dubious that the DEA targeted the 29 dispensaries solely because of the 1,000-foot rule since, according to his calculation, other dispensaries are much closer to schools.
He notes that Hypeherbally had recently aroused the ire of neighbors, and the controversy had made the Everett Herald. From the paper's Aug. 29 report:
Rick Benefiel, 62, the president of the Martha Lake Homeowner's Association, said his biggest problem is the business is within walking distance from Martha Lake Park.
The neighbors just learned the dispensary was open last week after the business filed for a land-use application.
"We want to keep this a family-oriented area and having it so close to that park is just asking for trouble," he said. "You just don't know what will happen."
Davis speculates that the neighbors' concerns may have provoked the DEA into taking action. Hypeherbally's owner also thinks that's a good bet.
Ruiz says he was nonetheless surprised by the DEA letter. He says he's measured his facility's distance from the park, and it's more than 50 feet clear of the prohibited 1,000 foot zone. Still, he says: "I can't argue with the DEA."
Just because he's closing his storefront,though, doesn't mean he's giving up on medical marijuana. A self-described "new-age hippie" who portrays pot as a safer alternative to conventional drugs, he says he intends to serve his patients--"lots of liver patients, people bound to wheelchairs, people with cancer"-- anyway he can. Asked how, he suggests he might move into "delivery."
Otherwise, he says his Lynwood patients might be left with cannabis. "There's not a lot out here as far as safe access."
See DEA letter on the following page.