What would have been the first medical marijuana expo in the Yakima Valley was shut down early Saturday over a misstep in filing an event permit with the county. The event’s organizer said a Yakima County sheriff’s deputy arrived at the planned site on Robinson Road on the outskirts of this quiet rural community early Saturday and told him that his paperwork hadn’t been approved by the county fire marshal because there hadn’t been a scheduled on-site inspection. “We thought we did everything by the book,” organizer William Smith said. “No one told us before today that we needed an on-site inspection.”
Smith said he had invited a number of medical marijuana vendors from west of the Cascades who he then had to hastily call and inform of the cancellation. He said the deputy told him he could have people over to the house, which belongs to family members, as long as they kept the gathering modest and out of sight. The Yakima County Sheriff’s Office may have been doing a favor to Smith and the 20 to 30 medical marijuana patients and a handful of providers who did trickle onto the property throughout the afternoon. Sheriff Ken Irwin said his office had notified the local office of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration of the event and that “we’d support any action they cared to take at the event.”
“State law is such a mess right now that we would defer to the federal government,” Irwin said. State law permits medical marijuana use, but access remains an issue. A yearlong attempt to clarify the state’s medical marijuana laws collapsed last May, leaving state dispensaries without legal recognition. Yakima Valley cities and towns are now grappling with a new state law that took effect in July that allows up to 10 qualifying patients to grow 45 plants in a collective garden. The legislation allows cities to license, zone and impose other requirements on the gardens. A number of cities, including Yakima and Sunnyside, have imposed temporary moratorium on such gardens. Naches is moving toward an outright ban. Federal law, meanwhile, leaves no legal room for marijuana.
Saturday’s gathering mirrored a neighborhood barbecue with new and old friends sharing laughs over soda pop and freshly fried corndogs in the backyard, with some smoking from glass pipes. There were also lollipops, brownies and cookies, but with a kick of THC. “Some people can’t smoke and these do help them sleep and relax,” Tony Wells, who along with his girlfriend in Union Gap sells marijuana products to those with the proper medical paperwork. If the sweets didn’t provide relief from the attendee’s ailments — which were reported as varying from chronic pain to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — they could reach into any of the large mason jars of sticky marijuana buds covered in tiny crystals of THC.
While some of skeptical, there was no question the medical marijuana patients at the gathering are convinced these products give them a shot at a healthier life. Walla Walla resident Don McKeta, 50, said he still suffers chronic pain from a violent car crash in his 20s as well as back and joint pain from more than 20 years as a long-haul truck driver. McKeta said prescription painkillers had side effects that made his skin break out and made his mouth numb, but marijuana gives him relief without the uncomfortable side effects. “I believe it has its drawbacks, but it’s healthier than other things I could be taking for it,” McKeta said.
Yakima Valley resident Jodi Gonzalez, 34, said she smokes marijuana for hip pain from an accident two years ago and has since gone through multiple surgeries to try to correct. She said she developed an addiction to her pain medication and had to go through rehabilitation. Gonzalez said marijuana isn’t a cure-all, that she still feels pain when she’s high, but says it lets her function at a better level than more addictive prescription medications. “This is safer,” said Gonzalez after smoking from a hookah.
Smith, the organizer, said he would continue to seek a permit from the county to hold a large event showcasing medical marijuana to raise awareness of its benefits. Whether or not he ever gets one remains in question. “I don’t think it’s an appropriate function,” Irwin said. “It violates federal law.”
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