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Originally published Wednesday, November 16, 2011 at 8:37 PM

U.S. attorney to target only flagrant pot dispensaries

Following the biggest raid on pot dispensaries since voters approved the state's medical-marijuana law in 1998, Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said Wednesday her office doesn't have the ability or inclination to shut down every dispensary in Western Washington — but authorities won't turn a blind eye to flagrant violations, either.

The Associated Press

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Following the biggest raid on pot dispensaries since voters approved the state's medical-marijuana law in 1998, Seattle U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan said Wednesday her office doesn't have the ability or inclination to shut down every dispensary in Western Washington — but authorities won't turn a blind eye to flagrant violations, either.

"Some people have said the law's confusing," Durkan said. "There's nothing confusing about the illegal conduct they were doing. Everyone knows you can't sell pounds of marijuana out the back door to someone who's not sick. You can't sell OxyContin pills."

The Drug Enforcement Administration raided 10 storefront dispensaries Tuesday, including several in Seattle, where law-enforcement officials have taken a lenient view of medical-marijuana grows and dispensaries. Search-warrant affidavits suggested the shops were fronts for illicit drug dealing and revealed that agents were looking for evidence of drug conspiracies, money laundering and guns.

One of the shops hit in the raids, the Seattle Cannabis Co-op, sold 5 pounds of marijuana to a confidential informant for $11,000 in a monitored transaction, agents said. When told that the informant wanted to sell the drugs in the Midwest, the co-op's employee recommended some lousy weed on the grounds that tokers there wouldn't know the difference.

Some marijuana activists rallied at the federal building in downtown Seattle to protest the raids, but others found them — especially the federal ones — hard to argue.

Seattle medical-marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt said that while he advocates legalization and believes the raids were a waste of resources, some dispensaries have flouted the rules.

"It looks like the federal part of this is targeted at behavior that would be illegal under state or federal law," he said. "It's a waste of resources and I think it has a chilling effect on others, but I don't think you can be disingenuous and say you don't have to follow the rules."

Earlier this year, Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed legislation that would have created a state system for licensing medical-marijuana dispensaries over concern that it would require state workers to violate the federal Controlled Substances Act.

The state nevertheless continues trying to make dispensaries pay business and sales taxes. The Department of Revenue says that according to its most recent figures, 13 dispensaries — a tiny fraction of those operating in Washington — paid nearly $30,000 in taxes between July 2010 and July 2011.

The city of Seattle responded to the governor's veto by passing legislation to regulate medical-marijuana shops like any other business — requiring that they be licensed, pay taxes and fees, obtain food-handling permits if they sell marijuana cookies and follow all other regulations.

Seattle City Councilman Tim Burgess, a former police officer and chairman of the Council's Public Safety committee, said the federal action would not deter city officials from continuing to license medical-pot shops and explore ways to implement zoning rules for them.

"We're taking cautious steps to bring more clarity and make sure there's proper regulation and control. The federal authorities made it very clear that these individuals who were the target of the federal investigation were operating well outside the medical provisions that were in place," he said.

Durkan said she believes many medical-marijuana patients are fakers.

"Most people have known someone in their life who has suffered from a very debilitating illness," she said. "We understand that if a doctor determines there's something that can give them comfort, they and their family want the ability to do that. But I think it's a pretty small population."

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