Pot Dispensary Braces for Legal Trouble
Laura Healy, medical marijuana advocate.
IN NOVEMBER 2009, Laura Healy and her husband, Chris, opened Shoreline’s Green Hope Patient Network, a nonprofit collective that provides pot to qualifying patients. It wasn’t technically kosher, but it wasn’t exactly forbidden, either: A 1998 state law that legalized medical marijuana was mum on the subject of dispensaries. New legislation originally meant to legalize and regulate the industry takes effect this July, but due to last-second edits from Governor Christine Gregoire, it could actually force the Healys—and every other dispensary owner in the state—to close their doors, sending their efforts to help chronically sick patients up in smoke.
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My lawyer told me a million times, “Don’t do it. Don’t do it.” And then my husband and I called him and said, “We did it.” You know, I didn’t have any confidence that we wouldn’t be arrested. I’m very conservative. I’ve always been afraid of authority.
I have restless leg syndrome, so it was hard for me to sleep. I was having a really bad attack one night, and my husband said, “Here, try this.” He’d already been on cannabis because he got into a car accident 15 years ago and had chronic back pain. I tried it, and my legs just stopped twitching. I was actually able to go to sleep. I slept so soundly that my husband had to poke me to make sure I was alive.
I’d gone to a couple other places to buy marijuana, and I didn’t like how they were run. They were in seedy areas, and I felt like I was buying from a drug dealer. My husband said, “What if our parents had to go and get medicine? We wouldn’t want them to have to go through that.” So he said, “Let’s open our own.”
It wasn’t easy to get small business loans. With the bank that we went through, Cascade Bank, we were totally honest and told them what we did. I figured honesty is the best policy. So on all of my business applications, anything I do, I say, “This is what we do. We’re a group of medical marijuana patients that get together and help each other with supplies.”
We get all of our supplies from members. When they grow, sometimes they’ll have excess. It can be anywhere from an ounce to a half pound. And I have people who sample it: Did it give them a long-lasting effect? Was it too harsh? If it’s harsh, then we tell the grower, “You need to do X, Y, and Z to fix it.” We’ve had people get upset with us, and they say, “I’ve grown for 30 years.” And we say, “Sorry, but you’ve been growing wrong for 30 years.”
I did a lot of behind-the-scenes work to put our name out there on the Internet, but not put it out too much. It’s not like a normal business where you can just say, “Here we are. Grand opening!” Today I still won’t give out my address. I’ll give you my phone number and general location, but I want to make sure you’re a legitimate patient before you know where we are.
This whole industry is about verbiage. It’s donations instead of payments. It’s groups instead of dispensaries.
The first time I had to take money and deposit it in the bank, I was terrified. I’m dealing with marijuana, and there’s a stigma attached to that. Even though it was medical cannabis and we were a group, I was scared. Scared that they would judge me or say, “That’s drug money.”
You can’t go to your pharmacy and say, “Oh, man. I ran out of my Percocet, but you know me. Come on, give me some more.” The pharmacist is going to look at you and laugh. That’s how we treat it here. There are specific rules, and you either follow them or there’s the door.
If the feds raid me, they can arrest me. They can put me in prison and take everything away. They scare me more than a robber. A robber usually just wants your money or product.
Oh yeah, I’ve had to call the police a few times, and it was scary the first time they came here. But they’re totally cool with us. One of them actually helped me with our security. He advised me where to put my hidden cameras so that they could capture people’s faces.
If we’re regulated, we’ll be able to ask for the respect that we deserve. And I think there’s a credibility factor, too. It helps the people who need the medicine feel safer. Instead of going to get it on the street, they’ll be coming into collectives.
The thought of going to prison petrifies me, of course. But the thought of my members not being able to get their medicine just devastates me.
Updated July 11, 2011. This version corrects an error originally printed in the July 2011 issue. The name of Laura Healy’s husband is Chris, not Mark.