LANGLEY — The plans for a medical marijuana “access point” in the Village by the Sea got a warm but wary welcome from city officials at a special council workshop this week.
Lucas Jushinski, a 35-year-old Freeland resident, Iraq War veteran and combat medic, has applied for a business license with hopes to set up Island Alternative Medicine behind the All Washed-Up Laundromat on Second Street.
The nonprofit would provide medical marijuana to patients who are legally authorized to use the drug in a low-key, professional manner, he said.
Jushinski plans to be the middleman between patients who need medical marijuana and those growing the drug in state-legal “collective gardens.”
“I’m bringing people together,” Jushinski told the city council.
“I’m bringing legal growers together and I’m creating a space where they can bring their medicine, and patients with terminal or debilitating medical conditions can access it,” he said. “Right now, patients from Whidbey Island — including myself — have to drive to Seattle … Mukilteo, or Bellingham or somewhere off-island. Somebody with cancer or somebody with a terminal illness — that’s hard for them to do.”
Jushinski’s idea brought others together, too. A crowd of about 80 packed the mid-day meeting Wednesday at Langley United Methodist Church.
City officials acknowledged early on that they supported state laws that govern the use of medical marijuana, murky as they may be. And they repeatedly tried to highlight just how limited Langley’s role might be.
“We’re not here to talk about legalization of marijuana,” Mayor Larry Kwarsick told the audience at the start.
“We’re not here to talk about whether or not we should have a medical marijuana law in the state of Washington. We have a medical marijuana law,” he said.
The mayor added that he supported Gov. Chris Gregoire’s petition to have marijuana knocked down a peg on the federal list of controlled substances — such a downgrade would put marijuana at the same level as cocaine, he noted — and said the federal government “remains seemingly entrenched” that marijuana has no medical benefit.
Kwarsick also decried the legal limbo created by the governor’s veto of nearly three dozen sections of the medical marijuana law passed by the Legislature and said too much regulatory responsibility was pushed off onto local governments.
“I think it would have gone a long way in establishing a very meaningful way of providing qualified patients access to medical cannabis,” Kwarsick said of the original law.
“I certainly support the concept of a designated provider and collective gardens, and I think that it’s very important that people who are qualifying patients have access to medical cannabis,” he added.
Jushinski said his nonprofit would set high standards, from the outside in.
At the street level, visitors would see the sign with the business name and its logo, a Buddha hand.
“There would be no images of bud leafs, no people smoking marijuana out of a bong,” Jushinski said.
Patients would enter a waiting room at the nondescript business, then speak to another medical marijuana cardholder through a sliding glass window at the start of a verification process that would include checks on the person’s identity, the authorization to have medical marijuana and a verification that “the doctor was an actual medical doctor in Washington state,” Jushinski said.
After the check-in process, patients would be allowed to enter, one at a time, into a separate room with display cases and varieties of marijuana in glass jars.
Donations, normally about $10 a gram, Jushinski said, would be accepted for the medicine.
He also laid out many other details, some surprising, to city officials.
“No patient is allowed to get more than 24 ounces at one time,” Jushinski said, a statement followed by sideways glances in the crowd and a moment of silence.
“Which is … which is a lot,” Jushinski said, prompting laughter.
Jushinski promised his business would police itself; there would be security cameras and a code of conduct for customers.
People wouldn’t see clouds of smoke outside, either, he said.
“There’s no medicating on the premises. There’s no loitering,” Jushinski said.
He vowed to pay any taxes due, and said profits would be donated to local organizations such as Good Cheer and the Veterans Resource Center.
“I want to set the bar high. I want to show this community that I deserve to be here and that I have respect for you for allowing me to be here,” Jushinski said.
“It’s not going to be some fly by the night, some dirty, dungy place. It’s going to be clean, respectable and professional.”
He also outlined what he would take home as pay: about $6,000 a month.
“Which, after the hours that I plan on working, is about $20 an hour. Which I think is fair for the risk I’m taking,” he said.
Though Jushinski brought two lawyers with him to help explain his business plans, Jushinski fielded most of the questions. He was warmly received by the large crowd, and received thunderous and prolonged applause several times during the meeting.
Still, city officials had plenty of other questions. A big one: how the business would fit into the neighborhood, and the city.
“I know there is a playground across the street, because I take my grandson there,” said Councilwoman Rene Neff.
“Every day when the kids leave school, they pass the liquor store. They pass Mo’s [Pub],” Jushinski replied.
“There are other far more harmful substances than marijuana in this community right now that the kids walk past every day,” he said.
The give-and-take at this week’s workshop was largely limited to city officials, Jushinski and his lawyers. Public comment wasn’t taken, though Kwarsick indicated at the meeting’s end that if the city adopts regulations on medical marijuana, a hearing will be held.
Still, the mayor’s comments struck some as lacking a sense of urgency.
“Every day you guys wait, there are people who are suffering in this audience, and including myself,” Jushinski said, “while you guys kind of juggle back there.”
The longer they take, he added, the more times people will have to go off-island for their medication, or buy unsafe drugs.
“We all have people in our lives suffering from one thing or another,” the mayor said.
Kwarsick added, however, that the city would eventually give Jushinski the green light, though he said he wanted to get the opinion of the city’s new attorney after a new law firm is selected next month.
“My sense is … that we will be able to authorize Lucas’ proposed nonprofit cooperative,” he said. “I just don’t know specifically the timing of that.”
“I know the opinion of our current attorney on the matter,” Kwarsick said.
“But we want to be more open to others’ fresh ideas that I think respect the intent of the medical cannabis law and the rights to people to access medical cannabis.
“So I don’t think it’s a question of not doing that; it’s a question of how do we get there,” Kwarsick said.