Editor’s note: This story has been corrected after King County’s Sheriff’s Office on Thursday clarified that it does work with the prosecutor’s office to remove illegal pot businesses. In an earlier version, a department spokeswoman said it was not the department’s responsibility to initiate enforcement.
An unlicensed Vashon medical marijuana shop is still operating on the island’s main highway more than a month after dispensaries without proper licensing were closed across the state.
Island Cure, on the south end of Vashon in the 17900 block of Vashon Highway SW, has been operating past July 1, which was the deadline for folding Washington’s medical marijuana market into the state’s tightly regulated retail cannabis system.
A bright neon “open” sign above a three-foot-high green cross marks the building. Two other signs advertised the business along the street. A search Wednesday for licensed retail marijuana shop locations on the state’s Liquor and Cannabis Board website showed only one unused, non-activated license for a different business on the island.
Island Cure owner Kevin Bergin’s reason for staying open is simple.
“Nobody told me to shut it down,” Bergin said Tuesday.
He said he never received any letters or verbal instructions to stop running his business.
“Then when I asked a cop two days before (July 1), he goes ‘What for?’ ” Bergin said.
King County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Cindi West said Thursday via email that her office does work with the prosecutor’s office to remove illegal marijuana businesses.
Pierce County outlined their own strategy:
“We would work the case, serve a search warrant and send the case to the prosecutor,” Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the state Liquor and Cannabis Board works only with licensed marijuana shops. Because Bergin’s operation is unlicensed, it’s not their responsibility, said department spokesman Brian Smith.
However, agents from LCB would accompany law enforcement on a dispensary shutdown if requested.
“We would offer our assistance if needed,” Smith said. “We have the authorization to seize all the products,” after first verifying the store is not licensed and its products are not in the registered supply chain.
The King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is looking into Island Cure’s situation.
Spokesman Dan Donohoe said Wednesday that his office has closed more than 15 stores in unincorporated King County through the threat of civil action.
“That is something we could pursue with any other unlicensed stores,” Donohoe said.
In an email to The News Tribune on Thursday, Donohoe wrote that the office plans to send a letter to Island Cure stating the business must close or face potential civil action.
The situation has been different in other counties.
On July 25, the Thurston County Narcotics Task Force seized marijuana, edibles, candies, creams and growing marijuana plants from Sonshine Organics Network in Olympia.
Joe Hyer, a spokesman for Sonshine, said that dispensaries should have been given 90 days to shut down after July 1. That would have given time for businesses and patients to better transition to medically endorsed recreational stores with a more complete product selection for patients.
“Those dispensaries that bled down their inventory before July 1 were doing a disservice to their patients,” Hyer said.
He supports Island Cure’s continued operation.
Pierce County sheriff’s deputies shut down an unlicensed marijuana dispensary July 6 that had continued to operate in close proximity to the sheriff’s Parkland Spanaway detachment headquarters.
Deputies served a warrant on the Green Organics store, seizing marijuana products and paraphernalia and arresting the owner on suspicion of illegal sale of marijuana and selling marijuana to a minor.
Meanwhile, Island Cure continues to sell marijuana.
“There’s people out here who need it,” Bergin said.
Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541