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Washington Medical Marijuana Dispensaries Stay Open Despite Federal Raids

BELLINGHAM, WA – Despite recent raids on medical marijuana dispensaries in other counties and a temporary store closure, the owner of Bellingham’s Northern Cross medical marijuana collective hopes to reopen the shop Friday, Nov. 18.

After raids of medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle and Thurston and Pierce counties Tuesday, Northern Cross owner Martin Nickerson decided to close the shop temporarily while he went to Seattle to talk to other medical marijuana co-op owners and get a feel for what was coming next. Authorities have said that any raids that do occur will focus on shops that are flagrantly violating state medical marijuana laws.

“Everybody is very concerned. The whole state is concerned at this point. We just don’t know what their agenda is yet.” he said of the raids. “We’re not so scared where we will ever give this up.”

On Nov 15th, the Drug Enforcement Administration joined local sheriff’s offices in executing search warrants at five dispensaries in Pierce County and five in Thurston County. By Tuesday evening, three search warrant affidavits had been unsealed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, suggesting that the shops were fronts for illicit drug dealing and revealing that agents were looking for evidence of drug conspiracies, money laundering and guns.

The search warrant affidavits noted agents used undercover buys at the pot shops, some made without showing proper authorization to possess marijuana, agents wrote. In one case, the DEA said, Seattle Cannabis Co-op, a dispensary with two storefronts in Seattle, sold marijuana in bulk to a confidential informant who had stated an intent to buy 25 pounds to transport and sell in the Midwest.

“We are aware that the dispensary industry is growing, and as it does there are bad actors that are going far beyond what the state law authorizes,” said Emily Langlie, spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Though medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law, Langlie said the focus of enforcement will be on criminal enterprises trying to use and exploit state compassionate marijuana laws to make a profit.

Nickerson said that most dispensaries aren’t in it for the money or bulk sales. Northern Cross, 1311 Cornwall Ave., doesn’t sell more than two ounces at a time.

“Everybody thinks that we are making a lot of money doing this, and that is simply not the case,” he said. “We barely stay alive, most of us. We do it because we want to help people.”

Nickerson said he and his volunteers are careful to ensure the collective’s clients have proper paperwork. He acknowledged, though, that not everyone has such selfless motives or strict rules.

“There are a lot of people not doing it right. I hate to say that,” he said. “We need to start policing ourselves. They’ve certainly proven that if we do not, they will.”

Bellingham Herald reported this story at www.bellinghamherald.com

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