Green Society Group owner describes new business as an access point for medical marijuana patients
By TJ MARTINELL
Covington Reporter Reporter
April 24, 2012 · Updated 5:41 PM
Let the legal wrangling over medical marijuana begin.
A new business called Green Society Group opened up in Maple Valley on April 20, run by Chris Schoonover and his business partner, Jon Hofer.
A dispute has arisen between the city of Maple Valley and Schoonover as to whether or not Green Society Group is violating the city’s moratorium on medical marijuana.
Schoonover described his business as specializing in “palliative care and networking solutions,” which includes medical marijuana collective gardens.
GSG, located at 22210 S.E. 272nd Street in Frontier Square, is designed with a more welcoming environment than most business dealing with medical marijuana, according to Schoonover. The main room resembles a medical office with a security door through which someone with an authenticated medical marijuana prescriptions can enter.
Beyond the door is an “informative table,” which Schoonover said is part of his plan to maintain strong communication with the city and remove any skepticism about the nature of his business.
He stated he intends to have the business open to the public once a month in order for people to come in with any questions they have.
According to Schoonover’s attorney, Jay Berneberg, the business manages collective gardens, yet does not act as a dispensary or a collective garden, and therefore does not violate the city’s moratorium or state law on medical marijuana.
According to state law, up to 10 people can grow a collective garden together. A person is also allowed to individually possess up to a 60 days worth of medical marijuana, which is defined as up to 24 ounces or 15 plants.
Berneberg stated in a telephone interview that businesses such as GSG manage the collective gardens for the medical patients, something which the state doesn’t regulate. He also said that only those who are documented members of a collective garden managed by GSG are given access to the medical marijuana. GSG, he stated, keeps documentation on members who enter or leave the collective garden, as well as store the medical marijuana.
“They’re (GSG) hired by the collective garden to do it,” Berneberg said. “We have a management company in Maple Valley and that’s where people can go and access their medicine. They come there, they obtain the medicine and they leave. Nobody’s using the medicine there. People come up like they’re going to the pharmacy. There’s not any partying going on. They don’t have a vapor room.”
Confusion due to the ambiguity in state law, as well as the exact intentions of GSG, has left the city at a loss of what actions to take, said City Manager David Johnston in a telephone interview.
“They’re (GSG) saying that they don’t fall under the moratorium,” he said. “We know what our moratorium states and through the discussions it says we believe it falls under the moratorium. We’ll do what we have to do to enforce any action that may have to happen. It’s unfortunate that there is no clarity in this issue. You still have the federal, state law issue. It’s not clear. Some of these actions can be illegal under federal law but it’s allowed under state law. So I think our hope would be the state would clear up any ambiguity, but they got caught in their budget issues.”
Johnston added that this dispute was “not a matter of if but when.”
The moratorium was passed by the City Council in July 2011. At its Feb. 21 meeting the City Council voted to support a letter signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire asking the DEA to consider reassigning medical marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug, which would make it legal for medicinal purposes.
Meanwhile, Schoonover said, he has no intention of letting the business get shut down.
“I won’t quit,” he said. “As long as I’m breathing air I’m going to fight this fight.”
Due to the dispute between the city, Berneberg advised Schoonover not to sell any medical marijuana until the issue has been cleared up. Even though he ultimately chose not to have any medical marijuana in the business during its grand opening, Schoonover said, he was determined to open on April 20.
“I made a promise that they would be able to speak to me,” he said of clients. “I was very adamant about that. Being the guys we are, this was an opportunity to prove that I am who I say am.”
It is unlikely at this time, however, that any action will be taken by the city against GSG, according to Johnston, who said at the Maple Valley City Council’s meeting on Monday that the King County prosecutor’s office will dismiss any charges the city may bring. He also discussed a meeting he had had with Berneberg earlier that day.
“What we are in is an assessment process because first of all, the thing came as a shock to the city staff,” Johnston said. “We’re going to take our time. So, we’re looking at all our legal review on the situation that we have. We’re dealing with some interesting interpretation of current state law. We’re trying to figure out if they’re valid or not. When we have more information to talk about, we will. We have to digest that. It’s an unfortunate, ambiguous situation that we face because of what happened with the governor’s line item veto last year.”
Johnston said, “they are being very open and they have a desire to be follow the rules and regulations and the laws.”
REMOVING THE ‘BLACK EYE’
Schoonover said he did not intend to open up his business in Maple Valley originally, but, changed his mind after the lease at Frontier Square became available.
“Quite honestly my path stumbled in here,” he said. “I didn’t want to open here. I’m a firm believer in fate and destiny, so when the door’s wide open you’d be foolish not to at least try it.”
One of his intentions, he said, is to improve the reputation of businesses that deal with medical marijuana.
“Certain individuals in this industry have done things incorrectly,” Schoonover said. “They have given us this black eye. We’ve tried to take the grey area out and take the black eye away. But we have to have a symbolic relationship with the community. You’ve got to.”
Schoonover stated he opposes Initiative 502, which if passed, would legalize small amounts of recreational marijuana.
Although he believes GSG does not violate the moratorium, Berneberg stated a moratorium on collective gardens and dispensaries is still the incorrect way to deal with the issue.
“Whether anyone wants to admit it or not there are already quite a few collective gardens in Maple Valley,” he said. “It goes on all over the place because it’s allowed under state law. They can put their head in a deep dark place. They can say it’s not happening because they’re got a moratorium. Prohibition is a terrible way to regulate medical marijuana. They lose revenue. They lose knowledge. They wash their hands of it and actually have the complete opposite effect of what it was intended to do. It says, ‘As long as you can keep it out of sight that’s OK.’ It’s a way for city to avoid responsibility.”
A medical marijuana dispensary, Covington Holistic Medicine, has remained open due to Covington’s moratorium being passed after it was in operation.
Last year, several medical marijuana dispensaries in Kent were shut down in July and then reopened several weeks later, which Berneberg said is proof that the law is on their side.
“It was like a gang came in and trashed the place,” he said. “It was an ugly show of force. So they send it over to the King County prosecutor and he says they’re not violating state law.”
Contact Covington Reporter Reporter TJ Martinell at email@example.com or 425-432-1209 ext. 5052.