Gilbert police made another medical-marijuana raid last week -- this one at the office of a Tempe advocacy group where patients sold pot to other patients.
About 4 p.m. last Thursday, cops -- some in masks -- entered the small office of the Medical Marijuana Advocacy Group, in an industrial complex at 2011 East Fifth Street. They placed the founder, an employee, and several customers in handcuffs for more than an hour and searched the place. Several ounces of weed, including live plants, were seized.
The bust had at least one major difference from the raid of a medical-marijuana patient's Gilbert home last week, in that it involves a new type of business in which pot is sold openly between qualified patients.
But the fact that no arrests were made seems to cloud the idea that Gilbert police have the law on their side.
The group's founder, Garry Ferguson, says he's confident that he'll prevail, yet acknowledges he's pushing the boundaries of Arizona's voter-approved medical-marijuana law to bring "medicine" to patients.
"It's almost as though Gilbert has declared independence from the government of Arizona," says Ferguson, who walks with a severe limp because of a 2003 motorcycle accident. "They are deviants of the state. I accept their challenge."
He says he told police, "I would continue to do tomorrow what I'm doing today."
And, as far as New Times could tell when we visited his office on Monday evening, he was. At least one customer, a qualified patient, was at the business obtaining medical marijuana, and Ferguson showed us five tall marijuana plants in the restroom. (He says the plants, which were donated to the group after the bust, would be moved soon to a secret location.)
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Gilbert Detective Jason Roman, who left his card at the office, wouldn't comment about the raid when we phoned him last night. The agency's spokesman, Bill Balafas, told us that the raid was unrelated to the previous one at the Gilbert home of a patient.
The advocacy group appears to be only one of several similar businesses that have cropped up in the Valley. They're not licensed dispensaries, because Governor Jan Brewer and state Attorney General Tom Horne have ordered the state Department of Health Services to reject dispensary applications after the filing of their lawsuit against the new law.
Ferguson and his office manager, Rachel Russell, say they're performing a valuable service for the thousands of registered medical marijuana patients who have few good, legal options for obtaining pot. Although qualified patients can grow up to
five 12 plants themselves legally, that's obviously not as convenient as buying pot from a store.
The Medical Marijuana Advocacy Group has "hundreds" of clients, says Ferguson, and before the raid offered various strains of buds as well as edibles and tinctures for patients who'd rather not smoke.
The raiding party told members of the group that it was acting on a tip, Russell says, and they questioned whether the individuals' registration cards still were valid considering the attempted derailment of the medical marijuana program by its opponents.
Ross Taylor, the Gilbert homeowner whose home was raided June 9, also told New Times that Gilbert police seem to be confused about the validity of the cards.
"They kept telling us that the law was on hold," Russell says.
That's not the case, but it's unclear whether the advocacy group's role as a quasi-dispensary really is legal under the law.
Ferguson sleeps in the shop. Although he claims to own some property near rural Sanders, Arizona, he says he's technically "homeless."
A few weeks ago, Ferguson says he figured what the heck -- he needs a job, likes "questioning authority," and knows a good business opportunity when he sees one. He scraped together some money, contacted a doctor who could make referrals and launched the business. The company made $6,000 in sales last week, so he knows he's on the right track.
Ferguson's medical condition, which is related to his massive back injuries, is obvious, and every other member is a bona fide patient, they say.
The group helps file the state paperwork for patients and has connected with expert growers.
"It's like a co-op of people helping me -- and helping themselves," he says. "I supply a safe place for people to go."
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We'll be checking into the situation over the coming days, both in this case and the other "co-ops" around town.
The answer to the legality, it seems, will be borne out by the actions of prosecutors. If there's enough wiggle-room in the law to allow these kinds of companies, perhaps dispensaries -- which can't be permitted now anyway -- aren't even needed.
UPDATE: Gilbert police bust yet another medical marijuana patient.