Friday, June 26, 2009

Medicinal marijuana dispensaries open in Wash.

SPOKANE, Wash. – Now that marijuana can be legally used to ease patients' pain, dispensaries are opening in Spokane to provide it.

And regardless of whether such stores are what Washington voters and legislators envisioned when they allowed medical marijuana, it may only be a matter of time before the businesses are commonplace: Medical marijuana has been approved in more than a dozen states.

The dispensaries' legal status, however, remains hazy. For Judy, a medical marijuana customer who asked that her last name be withheld, the drug has been a blessing. She credits it for alleviating the pain from a severe brain trauma and other injuries sustained 12 years ago when a suicidal man rammed his pickup into her car.

The crash severed her leg below the hip. "I remain thankful to be alive," she said. After years of buying marijuana illegally, Judy now has a doctor's note that says marijuana is a proper medication to ease her pain. She buys her supply from a shop called Change. It opened two months ago and is run by Christopher Stevens, Noah Zarate and Scott Shupe.

People smoke and buy marijuana at the Northwest Boulevard store, and police know about it. The owners wrote a letter to Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick about their business; her reply stated that her officers are committed to enforcing local, state and federal laws. Stevens, a candidate for Spokane City Council, took her reply to mean police would not interfere with the business.

Washington voters passed Initiative 692 - the Medical Use of Marijuana Act - in 1998. The Legislature sought to clarify the law in 2007, asking the Department of Health to define a legal and appropriate supply of marijuana. The Health Department determined that a medically authorized person could possess a 60-day supply, or 1 1/2 pounds of marijuana or 15 plants.

Donn Moyer, a Health Department spokesman, said that enforcement of the laws is left to local, state and federal police. A Health Department Web page at includes a "frequently asked questions" section about medicinal marijuana.

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