A medical marijuana advocate is taking the next step toward getting a cannabis growing co-op started in Richland.
Chet Biggerstaff, founder and executive director of the Three Rivers Collective, is opening an office on Jadwin Avenue where he plans to hold meetings and classes for medical marijuana patients and bring in new patients.
He plans to keep files, documentation and equipment in the office he’s leasing at 718 Jadwin Ave.
“We can’t use the facility to grow our medication in yet,” Biggerstaff said. “Well, technically we could, but we would more than likely be arrested.”
Biggerstaff’s ultimate goal is to have a facility to grow and distribute marijuana to patients, but ambiguity in the state’s medical marijuana law is preventing that from happening.
A news conference is set for 2 p.m. Tuesday at the new office. Biggerstaff plans to share information then about the Three Rivers Clinic and talk about his challenges with city officials — including claims that he’s being harassed by police.
He also intends to share his concerns at Tuesday night’s Richland City Council meeting.
Richland Police Chief Tony Corsi adamantly denies his officers are harassing Biggerstaff. He said city leaders have met with Biggerstaff, and they’ve told him state law doesn’t allow for medical marijuana patients to combine their plants and grow them in a collective.
“I’m the first to admit there are gaps in the state law … but we need to follow state law as interpreted by the county prosecutor and the local prosecutor,” Corsi said.
“What he’s doing is he’s basically trying to push his agenda and get public attention,” Corsi said. “We’ve told him numerous times to go to the state (legislators) and address the law issue with them.”
Washington law allows residents who suffer from a terminal or debilitating illness and have a written recommendation from their doctor to legally possess a 60-day supply of marijuana. It says a presumptive 60-day supply equals 24 ounces of processed pot and no more than 15 plants.
But the law is ambiguous about how patients are supposed to get their marijuana.
Biggerstaff and city officials appear to have a different interpretation of the law, Corsi said.
Biggerstaff said the law doesn’t say patients can’t get together, put the marijuana in one place to secure it or share their medication. But he said he was told that since state law doesn’t say that it can be done, it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.
“We’re trying to be proactive with the city. Instead they’re being reactive,” Biggerstaff said. “They don’t have a leg to stand on. All we want is the city involved to help develop zoning and regulations for us.”
Biggerstaff said city officials think the plans for the collective will go away if the members are ignored or harassed. But, he said, “One, I don’t go away, and two, if we don’t do it someone else is going to do it.”
Still, he says the group won’t be dispensing any marijuana from the new office until at least the end of the year. He said he wants to make an “over-effort” to ensure the city has a chance to get on board before moving forward without its support.
“We’re pretty sure where the city stands already, but we’re going to give them a little extra time,” Biggerstaff said. “More than likely we’ll open and they’ll shut us down and arrest me and I’ll have to deal with it in court. I firmly believe most of the people in Richland and the Tri-Cities in general are for this.”
Since starting his campaign for the collective, Biggerstaff says he’s had issues that he thinks are connected to people opposed to his plans, including banking issues that just came up in the past week. He admits it might just be a coincidence, but the timing makes him suspicious.
Biggerstaff also claims he’s been harassed by Richland officers who he says have pulled him over and come to his house on an “anonymous” tip about a marijuana grow in his backyard.
He said he has a 6-foot fence around his property and all his neighbors know he grows the marijuana, so he wonders if anyone actually made the call. He said he showed police his paperwork and they were there for about an hour before leaving.
Chief Corsi said a complaint was made through the patrol division about the marijuana grow so it was referred to the department’s Proactive Anti-Crime Team. He said PAC Team officers followed up on the complaint and determined no charges were warranted.
Biggerstaff said his latest harassment by officers was Oct. 23, when he was pulled over for having expired tabs on his license plate. He said he was on his way home when an officer drove past him, turned onto the next street, then sat and waited for him to drive by.
The officer pulled behind him and followed him to his nearby house but never activated his lights, Biggerstaff said. He said he pulled into the driveway and the officer blocked him in and other police units showed up.
He admits his tabs were expired, but questions why so many officers were required for a traffic stop. He was not cited, just warned to take care of it.
Biggerstaff said he wasn’t surprised he wasn’t cited but still feels he’s being harassed.
“Why have I been pulled over so many times and not cited?”
Biggerstaff said he’s been stopped by Richland cops two or three times, but the only other instance he could recall was when an officer said he was “changing lanes too quickly in the middle of rush hour traffic.”
Corsi said he wasn’t aware of the latest traffic stop but would look into the circumstances surrounding it. He reiterated that his officers are not targeting or harassing Biggerstaff.
“It’s absolutely not true. It’s easy to make accusations but it’s not true,” Corsi said. “I personally believe he has a personal agenda, but as I told him before … he needs to go to the state (legislators) and try to work out the state law.”