A wave of optimism for the industry that accompanied the opening of a collection of new marijuana dispensaries on Capitol Hill in the past year has been replaced by a wave of concern and uncertainty after a series of busts around the greater Puget Sound on Tuesday.
Overall, authorities say that more than a dozen dispensaries around Seattle were hit in the federal raids with twelve or more arrests. Included in the net was Seattle Cross, an offshoot of the Tacoma Cross effort that had set up operations near 23rd and Madison on the backside of Capitol Hill.
The Stranger offered this account of what happened there on Tuesday:
He told me that he heard the DEA agents announce they had a warrant, and then saw them carrying out large desktop computers and big plastic garbage bags full of marijuana. Then, he said, “they drove off in a quasi-caravan, and that was it.” (Another observer told me he read the warrant, and that it was very broadly written. This observer also said the DEA agents pulled carefully cultivated marijuana plants, intentionally separated by strain, out of their pots and threw them haphazardly into the garbage bags.)
In joint statements released by the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Department of Justice, federal authorities didn’t name the dispensaries or the suspects but enumerated the transgressions behind the busts:
As set forth in the search warrant affidavits unsealed by the U.S. District Court today, these businesses attracted the attention of federal law enforcement for a number of reasons: their failure to abide by state medical marijuana guidelines; indications that they were distributing large amounts of drugs; and evidence they were laundering large amounts of money. Some of these marijuana stores were the subject of complaints from their surrounding communities as well as medical marijuana supporters, concerned about businesses operating outside the letter and spirit of state law. One operator was arrested this morning for violating the court ordered terms of his federal supervised release for a prior federal conviction.
This spring, James Lucas, an owner of Tacoma Cross, told CHS he was bringing his co-op to Seattle to provide a service. “We try to keep the medicine high quality and affordable,” Lucas said. “I’m hearing prices of $400 an ounce. We’re going to come up there and try to help people out.”
Lucas said his dispensary system utilizes an identification card that also works like a membership rewards program. At the time, he said Tacoma Cross currently had about 3,500 members.
Eight people connected to Tacoma Cross were charged with felonies in 2010 after seven of their homes were raided. In the end, five people pleaded guilty to lesser misdemeanor charges and were let off without suspended or deferred jail sentences.
The Seattle Times reports that the federal legal paperwork details one alleged major transaction involving Seattle Cross ownership:
A search-warrant affidavit for those locations — and for homes where marijuana was being grown — accused both dispensaries of drug dealing and money laundering.
In federal court documents accompanying the search warrants, officers described a confidential informant buying 5 pounds of marijuana for $11,000 from the Seattle Cannabis Co-op.
The co-owner of Seattle Cross, according to an affidavit, posted a photo on his Facebook page showing three duffel bags of cash and a caption, “This gonna take all night to count … lol.”
Deposits in the Seattle Cross bank account totaled $850,979 in a year.
The legal environment around the city’s medical marijuana providers, already murky following the governor’s veto of a bill regulating dispensaries this spring, is now further clouded. Most providers continued to operate even as federal efforts to stamp out the industry increased in other states.
Toke of the Town reports that a law enforcement official said raids will be “culminating” on Wednesday.
It isn’t clear what will come next for other dispensaries operating on Capitol Hill. Our messages to Apothecary Seattle, a one-time CHS advertiser, and Pike/Pine’s BOTH Collective have not yet been responded to. Apothecary released a series of news posts to its Facebook page about the raids. The 10th Ave BOTH posted a message to its Twitter feed: