Marijuana dispensary owner takes plea deal
Tigard pot shop owner vows to continue fight
Sarah Bennett wanted to change the world.
On Tuesday, June 10, the Portland mother pleaded guilty to felony possession and misdemeanor possession of marijuana after her medical marijuana dispensary in Tigard was raided and closed two years ago.
It brings an end to Washington Countys attempts to convict us of multiple felonies for providing medicine to patients, Bennett said on Wednesday. It was a win on both sides. It was a fair settlement, and now it is time to move on.
Bennett opened The Human Collective (or THC) in Tigard in 2010. The dispensary provided medical marijuana cardholders with the drug for a monthly membership fee, at a time before dispensaries became legal in the state.
The dispensary was shut down in October 2012, when Washington County sheriffs deputies raided the business, recovering 40 pounds of marijuana buds from the store. They also seized 21 large marijuana plants and more than 200 smaller plants at Bennetts nearby home, along with firearms and more than $23,000 in cash. The guns belonged to Bennett's deceased father and were not ready to be used in any way, Bennett says.
After the dispensary was shut down, it re-opened a month later on Southwest Barbur Boulevard, just across the Tigard border in Multnomah County.
THC was a model
Pot shops have operated in a legal gray area for years. Medical marijuana cardholders were not allowed to purchase the drug, but could have someone grow the drug for them and reimburse them for the costs of production, such as electricity, supplies and other costs needed to grow the plants.
Bennett saw THC as a legal way for people to get access to medicine.
(Cardholders) need immediate access, but they dont know how to grow or have the time to do so, Bennett said. They dont know the cost associated with indoor or an outdoor cultivation. There was this need, so I did some research and got involved in the community.
Bennett was charged with manufacturing, delivering and possessing marijuana, as well as possession of a controlled substance, child neglect and endangering the welfare of a child.
On Tuesday, Bennett pleaded guilty to two of those charges, admitting to possessing and manufacturing the drug.
A lot has changed since The Human Collective was shut down. In March, medical marijuana retail shops became legal in Oregon.
That law was based, in part, on The Human Collectives model.
Bennett has long been an advocate for legalization and has worked with legislators on ways to regulate the industry.
Looking forward, we are very excited to ensure that patients have the safe access that they need, she said.
Bennetts attorney Amy Margolis said Bennett has become a major player at the table. Legislators consulted with her on how to craft the medical marijuana dispensary law while her charges pended.
She did something that you dont see very often, Margolis said. She invited law enforcement in (to tour The Human Collective), the attorney general visited the facility and a number of people in positions of power and politicians came and stopped by.
Under the new law, the Oregon Health Authority licenses dispensaries across the state, and stores must track whom they sell their marijuana to and face inspections twice a year.
That news hasnt pleased some. Several cities, and Washington County, have put bans on dispensaries from locating within their limits.
Tigard where The Human Collective operated for more than two years has said it isnt against the idea of dispensaries, but is prohibiting them for a short time while it considers what regulations should be placed on the industry.
Places for advocacy
While The Human Collective may have had good intentions, prosecutors said the dispensary went too far.
Members paid yearly dues and could purchase marijuana at $5 to $10 a gram. That cost was meant to cover the costs of growing the plant, but deputy district attorney Christopher Lewman said the prices were significantly higher than what it actually cost.
Growers and Ms. Bennett were taking in large sums of money, as much as $30,000 over a couple of months, he said on Tuesday.
According to Sgt. Bob Ray with the Washington County Sheriffs Office, the Tigard dispensary brought in more than $1.7 million in sales in 2012 before it was shut down.
In Tuesdays sentencing, Washington County Circuit Court Judge Kristen Thompson said Bennetts desire to help people was commendable, but the dispensary still broke the law.
When a person exceeds the boundaries, whether that is in good faith or not is rather not the issue, Thompson said. I hope you understand that there are places for advocacy and places for compliance. You went beyond advocacy. You went out of compliance, and that is why you are here today. If you are able to change the world in a different way, then I commend you. I always commend folks who are able to change the world for the better. These are not issues on which everybody agrees.
Margolis, Bennetts attorney, said her client will continue to fight for medical marijuana cardholders.
She was committed then, and she is committed now to making medical marijuana safe and accessible and to help other medical marijuana facilities and cardholders be compliant, Margolis said.
Bennett said The Human Collectives future is bright.
Whether it is Beaverton, Hillsboro, Forest Grove or Aloha, the option is there for us to expand, Bennett said. For now, though, we need to focus on our current facility and work with the Legislature.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An early version of this story incorrectly listed the charges to which Bennett pleaded guilty in Washington County Circuit Court. She pleaded guilty to felony possession and misdemeanor of possession of marijuana. The Times regrets the error.
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