Medical marijuana in Bremerton, 'the right way'- Non-profit medical marijuana dispensary hopes to open shop on Callow Avenue by March

When Archie Lee and a handful of family members decided to start a medical marijuana dispensary in Bremerton, they knew it wouldn't be easy.

Herbal Healing, which Lee co-owns with four others, is currently operating a delivery service serving medical marijuana patients, but it is in the process of finding a building for the organization. The store will likely be on Callow Avenue, but it's a difficult venture. Given the conflicting state and federal laws on the possession of medical marijuana, there are no laws that dictate how a dispensary in Bremerton should operate.

"We're kind of in limbo right now," said Lee, adding that Herbal Healing has a state business license and is pursuing a Bremerton license. "We want to do it the right way."

Herbal Healing, a non-profit, hopes to open its store in the beginning of March. As the first medical marijuana dispensary in the city of Bremerton, the city's legal department is unsure of how it will be regulated or how legal it is.

Both federal and state law indicate that possession of marijuana is illegal. However, Washington's Medical Marijuana Act of 1997 protects people using marijuana with a prescription and those who provide it to them, but they can still face federal penalties.

There are also no legal protections for buyers and sellers of marijuana.

"It's really unclear what we have here," Assistant City Attorney Mark Koontz said.

But Herbal Healing is moving forward with its shop. Its non-profit model offers a donor system in which medical marijuana patients donate marijuana to Herbal Healing and patients in need of it pay what they can, thereby avoiding the laws against buying and selling it. However, it still seeks more guidance on how to operate legally.

"We want some definition on dispensaries," Lee said.

Lee himself is a medical marijuana patient who uses it to treat migraines. Originally from Tacoma, he has lived in Bremerton for 10 years. He used to coach girls fastpitch for six years and work as a contractor. Until now, Lee traveled to King and Pierce counties to find medical marijuana. His main concern is ensuring people who need the marijuana in Kitsap obtain it the right way.

"We want to make sure that people can get it in a safe manner," he said.

Herbal Healing joins at least two other medical marijuana dispensaries in Kitsap County, including Kitsap MMJ and Cloud Nine Cares.

Jeff Raub has operated Cloud Nine Cares in Kitsap County as a mobile medical marijuana delivery service since last March and typically serves between 90 and 100 patients at any given time. He doesn't have a store front because he doesn't want to risk prosecution. His clients live throughout Western Washington, from Chehalis to Port Angeles, but he says much of the need is in Kitsap County.

"The Kitsap County residents still need a safe, decently priced alternative to Tacoma or Belfair," Raub said, noting that most Kitsap medical marijuana patients leave the county to find affordable medication, consequently sending tax dollars to other counties. "I'm hoping the dispensary in Bremerton will not only bring much-needed revenue to Kitsap County, but a dispensary with a reputation for quality."

Obtaining medical marijuana is also a challenge because many of those who need it are low-income, unable to work full-time jobs due to injury or illness. Raub himself ran a construction business until he sustained a debilitating back injury 15 years ago and his condition deteriorated until he had to stop working full time a few years ago. His hardship in finding an affordable medical marijuana dispensary inspired him to establish Cloud Nine Cares.

"I couldn't afford my own medication, so I figured other people were in the same situation," Raub said.

This week, Raub submitted a report to the City of Bremerton including information on how dispensaries in the area operate and how they help generate city and county revenue. His proposal included a profit-sharing arrangement that would provide income to the city in addition to the taxes generated.

"I'm trying to help the city, not fight them," he said.

Koontz and City Attorney Roger Lubovich said they have not yet investigated how a dispensary might operate in Bremerton.

The medical marijuana dispensary is only a portion of Herbal Healing's services. It plans to host food drives and coat drives for local charities and offer financial assistance to people who need help paying bills.

"It's just our way of giving back to the community," co-owner Linda Gray said, adding that she hopes to adopt needy families during the holiday season.

It's Herbal Healing's larger vision of serving the underprivileged that sets it apart from other groups who mainly serve as dispensaries, Lee said.

"We just feel like we need this," he said. "We're people helping people."

Meanwhile, Bremerton's legal team is bracing itself to see how the non-profit moves forward.

"What's going to happen down here, we don't know," City Attorney Roger Lubovich said. "It's going to be pretty interesting."

Herbal Healing will host an informational seminar on how to obtain and possess medical marijuana in Washington.

Doctors and other speakers will give presentations.

When: 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 24

Where: The Charleston, 333 N. Callow Ave., Bremerton

Free admission, canned food donations will be accepted.

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