The DEA sent three more letters to medical-marijuana dispensaries this month, agency spokesperson Jodie Underwood confirms, strongly advising them to pay "prompt attention" to the fact that they are breaking federal law and directing them to shut down within 30 days.
That makes 29 dispensaries the feds have so warned, including 23 that got letters in late August and three a few weeks later.
The most recent letters were the same as earlier ones, according to Underwood—notifying dispensaries that they had run afoul not only of the federal prohibition on marijuana but of laws that stipulate increased penalties for drug dealing within 1,000 feet of schools or other facilities catering to kids.
One dispensary that got a letter is HypeHerbally Holistic Health in Lynnwood. "We're going to comply within the 30 days," owner Justin Ruiz tells SW, but he's not closing the doors quite yet. "Our first concern is the patients," he says. "We need to tell everybody first."
John Davis, chair of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards & Ethics, a year-old trade group that is trying to promote standards in the medical-marijuana industry, says he talked to the owner of another dispensary that got a letter last week, Seattle's Greenwood Alternative Medicine. Greenwood is listed as closed on the online dispensary directory Weedmaps.com, and a message left on the facility's voice mail was not returned.
Davis says he's having a hard time figuring out the "intent" of the letters. He is dubious that the DEA targeted the 29 dispensaries solely because of the 1,000-foot rule because, according to his calculation, other dispensaries are much closer to schools. He notes that HypeHerbally had recently aroused the ire of neighbors due to its proximity to Martha Lake Park, a controversy which made the Everett Herald, and speculates that the neighbors' concerns may have provoked the DEA into taking action. HypeHerbally's owner also thinks that's a good bet.
Ruiz says he was nonetheless surprised by the DEA letter. He says he's measured his facility's distance from the park, and it's more than 50 feet clear of the prohibited 1,000-foot zone. Still, he says, "I can't argue with the DEA."
Just because he's closing his storefront, though, doesn't mean he's giving up on medical marijuana. A self-described "New Age hippie" who portrays pot as a safer alternative to conventional drugs, Ruiz says he intends to serve his patients—"lots of liver patients, people bound to wheelchairs, people with cancer"—any way he can. Asked how, he suggests he might move into "delivery."
Otherwise, he says, his Lynnwood patients might be left without cannabis: "There's not a lot out here as far as safe access."