Last Friday afternoon, an enforcement officer from the Washington State Liquor Control Board walked into a Kent medical cannabis dispensary and requested access to the secure areas of the building for "training purposes."
That was enough to concern the medical cannabis industry, which feverishly opposed last year's initiative to legalize cannabis for recreational use. Many pot shop owners, attorneys, and patients argued that Initiative 502 would lead to a crackdown on dispensaries, and they see this intrusion from the liquor board—which is supposed to regulate the recreational pot industry, but not the medical cannabis industry—as a confirmation of their worst suspicions.
"It was very surprising. We were definitely caught off guard," says Angie R., co-owner of Lady Buds in Kent, who asked that we not print her full last name. "We've had the local police in here before, and their approach is much different—we actually like them. When this woman walked in, her attitude was completely different, like she thought she was in charge."
Even liquor board director Rick Garza is shocked. "We have not instructed enforcement staff to do anything related to medical marijuana dispensaries, and as you probably know, we don't have authority over medical cannabis," he says. Agency officials have visited several dispensaries during the I-502 rule-making process, but officers should never stop by a medical pot shop uninvited, he emphasizes, saying the officer's decision was a personal one that is being investigated.
The timing couldn't be worse for the agency, Garza laments, given an announcement last week from the US Department of Justice saying states that legalize marijuana in some form must conform to strict standards. "Some people are paranoid that the liquor board is out to close down all the medical dispensaries, and that's just not the case," Garza stresses. "I'm a little embarrassed. It plays into the paranoia some people have."
The liquor board's chief of enforcement, Justin Nordhorn, has since contacted Lady Buds to apologize for the mishap, and Lady Buds seems pleased with the apology. "I was irate, pissed off, and everything else," says Angie. "I feel much better today."