John Hopkins says he would have welcomed a legal marijuana operation on his property in southeast Puyallup if city and state regulations aligned to make it happen.
But Puyallup’s deputy mayor said one of his tenants “jumped the gun,” causing a “meltdown” in a normally quiet corner of the city.
Officers found a marijuana grow and hash oil extraction lab on Hopkins’ property in the 2400 block of Inter Avenue on Wednesday, police spokesman Scott Engle said. The Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and the state Department of Ecology were also at the scene.
Police also searched a dispensary in the 2700 block of East Main, which they believe the illegal operation likely supplied. They also searched the home of the 50-year-old suspect, in unincorporated Pierce County, where he was arrested, Engle said.
Hopkins, who’s served on the City Council for almost three years, isn’t a suspect at this time, Engle said. One person was detained, and five others were being questioned by police, he said.
Engle didn’t immediately release information about whether police believe there is any connection between Hopkins and those in custody, other than that he owns the property that was busted.
“This is an ongoing investigation,” Engle said.
Hopkins told reporters he didn’t know how his leased commercial building was being used.
“Originally we were told that it was going to be (for) medical records,” he said. “I am unaware of the alleged grow operation.”
He said he leased the property through a “well-respected” Realtor and did not have a relationship with the tenant.
The man is a British citizen who is in the country illegally, Engle said, and police detained him Wednesday on a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement violation. Engle said charges are expected in connection with the marijuana investigation.
Hopkins said he had been unaware of the man’s citizenship status.
Hopkins had disclosed during City Council meetings this year that the tenant under investigation was applying for a recreational marijuana license through the state. He addressed the issue to ask if that would be a conflict of interest, he said.
“I was told emphatically ‘no,’ ” he said. “I knew what (the tenant) intended to do in the future, but they certainly didn’t have my permission to do what was alleged.”
Hopkins said he first heard of the suspected grow operation when someone called to tell him police were outside the business Wednesday. He then arrived to speak with officers.
Had it not been for Wednesday’s “meltdown,” Hopkins said, he believed it was likely the state would have granted the business a pot producer/processor license. He acknowledged that the license application raised a red flag, but he had no grounds to search the property.
“When they applied for their license, it got me scratching my head,” he said. He “would’ve had absolutely no problem” with a fully licensed and legal operation, he said.
Hopkins owns several buildings in the city. He said he would stop by the Inter Avenue building about once a month to deal with billing at another on-site business. On those visits, he would only poke around outside to see if any work was needed, he said.
Although state Initiative 502 decriminalized marijuana manufacturing and sales in the state, the city of Puyallup has continued to extend a moratorium on the operations. The most recent extension, which was unanimous, expires Dec. 31, to give city staff time to research the issue. In an earlier extension in March, Hopkins was a lone vote against extending the moratorium, arguing that the council should approve a shorter extension, instead.
Mayor John Knutsen and fellow council members have said they don’t want to lead the way on implementation of I-502. They’ve also been considering a strict prohibition of hash oil production. (Hash oil is what is extracted from the cannabis buds for use in pot-infused edibles.)
A hash oil extraction lab exploded at a house in the 1500 block of Shaw Road East in Puyallup in May. No one was injured.
There is only one legal hash oil extraction operation in the state, Engle said.
“It is not this one,” he said from the scene.
The quiet commercial road saw few bystanders Wednesday.
Pete Kupper and Chad Ficca work at a steel fabrication company nearby. Both were surprised to see so many officers in the area, which they said is normally quiet.
“We don’t see much activity,” Kupper said.
Ficca added that the only people who come and go are commercial workers, and he’s never seen any unusual activity.
Donna Barnes lives in the lone residence on the block, directly across the street from the alleged pot operation.
Barnes never observed any explicitly suspicious activity. But she noticed that the tenants kept guard dogs on site, and she often wondered why the windows were always covered.
“We always were curious,” she said. “It’s just not normal.”
The large garage doors had never been open prior to Wednesday’s raid, she added.
Despite her prior curiosity, Barnes was still surprised to see such a large police response.
“I just know this neighborhood so well,” she said. “It’s so safe.”