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Originally published Tuesday, June 7, 2011 at 4:04 PM

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Bruce Ramsey / Times editorial columnist

The medical-cannabis crackdown

Seattle Times editorial columnist Bruce Ramsey chronicles the crackdown on medical marijuana.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

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"Green Hope Open," says the handmade sign along Aurora Avenue North in Shoreline. The business itself has no sign. Tucked between Johnny S. Lee, dentist, and James Park, chiropractor, it displays a commercial modesty unusual for Highway 99.

It is the Green Hope Patient Network, and it sells marijuana. Its customers are 500 people who qualify under state law because they have AIDS, cancer, Crohn's disease, chronic pain or other conditions.

Green Hope opened in November 2009, one month after the Obama administration said it would not enforce federal law on medical use of cannabis in the medical-marijuana states. Now the policy tightens. Why is not explained.

Maybe the too-eager flowering of commercial cannabis alarms Obama's re-election team. Threatening letters from Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys have gone out in Montana, Oregon, Arizona and other states.

The Obama people, it turns out, are not so different from the Bush people.

In Spokane, U.S. Attorney Michael Ormsby threatened landlords with seizure of their properties and cannabis sellers with prosecution. Some 40 dispensaries — imagine Spokane having that many! — have now closed. Seven that stayed open too long were raided and their proprietors arrested.

Frank Cikutovich, an attorney representing the Spokane sellers, reflected on the change. "We had a two-year free-for-all when it was like Amsterdam around here," he said. Now his clients are out on bail, waiting to see if they will be indicted on federal charges.

"We're holding our breath," he said.

Things have been more civilized this side of the mountains. Still, the regime has been tightening since the Obama people leaned on Gov. Chris Gregoire to veto large parts of the Legislature's medical-cannabis bill. The full bill would have licensed and regulated dispensaries, but the surviving parts, which go into effect July 22, appear to forbid them.

On Monday, Charles Lambert, director of the Evergreen Holistic Center in Kent, received a letter from the city declaring that his business will be illegal as of July 22, and that he will be subject to forfeiture of assets.

In Shoreline, Green Hope is at risk. Formerly a stay-at-home mom, founder Laura Healy, 42, is running her first business. She is trying to follow the rules, and seems about as far removed from a criminal as you could imagine.

"I don't ever want to go to jail," she said. "I've never even had a speeding ticket."

She has had a business license for six months. Now the city has received a threatening letter from an insurance pool, and has notified her that her license is revoked. She has appealed. On Monday night she appeared at City Hall with patients, who argued that simple plant products have made them less reliant on drugs.

"I was on Oxycodone," said one man who replaced his opiate-based painkillers with cannabis cream, with fewer side effects.

A woman with bipolar disorder said marijuana allowed her "to get off some pretty heavy-duty psych meds."

A muscle man with tattoos said prescription painkillers made him mean, and that cannabis cream allows him to get along with people.

The council members expressed sympathy — and uncertainty. City Attorney Ian Sievers said Green Hope can stay open until July 25, when the city has a hearing on the license suspension.

And still the sign reads, "Green Hope Open."

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is

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