On Friday, an enforcement officer from the Washington State Liquor Control Board entered a Kent medical cannabis dispensary and requested access to the secure areas of the building for "training purposes." The action came one day after the federal government declared that it would not seek to overturn Washington's legal pot law.
"It was very surprising. We were definitely caught off guard," says Angie R., co-owner of Lady Buds in Kent. "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."
Liquor Control Board Director Rick Garza is similarly shocked by the move. "We're gonna have to figure out why one of our officers felt the need to visit a dispensary," says Garza. "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."
Garza notes that the liquor board has many new marijuana licensing staff and the agency typically sends new employees out with enforcement officers to get a sense of what the liquor enforcement job entails. The agency has been inside many dispensaries during the I-502 rulemaking 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 the Department of Justice announcement one day prior. "Some people are paranoid that the liquor board is out to close down all the medical dispensaries and that's just not the case," he stresses. "I'm a little embarrassed. It plays into the paranoia some people have."
Liquor Control Board Chief of Enforcement Justin Nordhorn contacted Lady Buds to apologize for the mishap. "He admitted that the Liquor Control Board has no jurisdiction and that woman had no right to be in here and she overstepped her authority," says co-owner Angie. "He apologized profusely, said they are taking this very seriously and that they are looking into it."
Garza hopes the incident won't cast a negative light on the agency's legal pot work. "It's just unfortunate that it happened. We respect the rights of patients who use medicinal marijuana."
Lady Buds is pleased with the apology. "I was irate, pissed off, and everything else yesterday," says Angie. "I feel much better today."
UPDATE 3:05 p.m. Liquor Enforcement Officer Diana Peters—the one who visited the dispensary—emailed an apology (to a third party who emailed a complaint) for the faux pas:
Sir, my visit was merely to gain “personnel” understanding of a “medical marijuana facility.” Yes, the state is in the process of regulating the marijuana but we are not taking any enforcement actions until next year and that would still “not pertain to your establishment.” My intent was only to gain a understanding from your staff. I had done a routine unannounced premise check at the “Liquor Store” beside your business and thought I’d ask. We have other Officers in the Seattle area that have been given complimentary tours by other “Medical Marijuana Facilities” and they gained a wonderful understanding and I was just hoping for the same.
I had a “ride a long” that also wanted education in your field. You sir, are the “experts” pertaining to this.
I apologies for any inconvenience or added concerns this may have caused.
If I can help you out in any way, please don’t hesitate to call or email.