Three Bellingham medical marijuana cooperatives were shut down and five people were arrested Thursday afternoon, March 15, after Bellingham Police officers raided the businesses.
Two people were arrested at the Northern Cross medical marijuana collective at 1311 Cornwall Ave., including owner Martin O. Nickerson. At The Joint Cooperative, 1311 11th St., one employee was arrested.
All three were booked into Whatcom County Jail for failure to appear for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute. KGB Collective, 1130 Finnegan Way, was raided as well, though it was unclear if anyone was arrested at the store.
Marijuana Dispensaries Operating In Violation Of Municipal Code
All three medical marijuana collectives were ordered to cease operations of their businesses immediately in letters delivered by the Bellingham Police March 9, after the collectives continued operating without business registrations. The city began to revoke or denied business registrations for medical marijuana dispensaries and co-ops in late 2011. Without those registrations, the businesses were operating in violation of municipal code.
The letters informed the collectives that “business activities involving the sale and distribution of marijuana” violate Washington state law, and “therefore constitute criminal behavior.”
The collectives remained open after the letters, and Nickerson and the owner of The Joint were planning to fight the city’s closure request. They hired a Seattle law firm to file an injunction with a motion for a temporary restraining order to allow the businesses to remain open. That was set to be filed Friday, March 16, and attorney Hilary Bricken said it still will. She described the raids as un-American, draconian and unconstitutional under state law.
“We want to get in court as quickly as we can so we can relay to a judge what’s gone down today,” Bricken said Thursday. “In our opinion, the handcuffs did not need to come out. What (the collectives are) doing is lawful.”
According to a Bellingham Police Department press release, the raids followed a three-month investigation into “the illegal distribution and manufacture of marijuana at marijuana cooperatives in Bellingham.”
Police investigated and determined that the cooperatives were “no more than a front for illegal drug activities,” the release said.
Police also searched two locations in Skagit County that they believed to be the source of some of the marijuana sold at the cooperatives.
Operating By The Book
Northern Cross assistant manager Jason Crawford said he was there with Nickerson and about seven other volunteers when the police showed up. Though a raid wasn’t entirely surprising, he said he didn’t think it would come this soon, if at all.
“I think it’s crazy. It doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “We’ve been here for a year. We’ve never had any complaints. We don’t have people hanging out in front of the store. We’re quiet. It’s crazy to me.”
Crawford said the collective was doing “everything by the book, 100 percent,” and said he felt that closing the shops would force medical marijuana patients to buy on the streets. Thursday evening, he waited for a call from police to let him know he could return to the shop. He said he had no idea if or when the collective would be able to re-open, but he hoped it would be soon.
“This is going to be another uphill battle for us, but we’re going to keep fighting,” he said. “We’re going to keep getting patients their medicine in a safe way.”