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Renton shuts down medical marijuana dispensary on South Third Street

The red tag placed near the door of the Tranquility Holistic Center on South Third Street covers up a document stating that city officials do not have consent to enter and no one in the facility will answer questions about the activities on the premises.  - Brian Beckley/Renton Reporter
The red tag placed near the door of the Tranquility Holistic Center on South Third Street covers up a document stating that city officials do not have consent to enter and no one in the facility will answer questions about the activities on the premises.
— image credit: Brian Beckley/Renton Reporter

The city of Renton on Thursday ordered the owners and operators of the Tranquility Holistic Center to cease business operations due to the lack of a valid business license.

Tranquility Holistic Center is a private members-only medical marijuana facility that opened this month on South Third Street downtown.

Jay Berneburg, attorney for Tranquility Holistic Center, said his clients have a business license and are appealing the decision.

"They have a business license," he said in a phone interview Friday. "The city's wrong."

City Attorney Larry Warren reiterated Friday that the Tranquility Holistic Center had no business license and said if the group received one, it was "no doubt" because they were not forthcoming and honest about what would be happening at the business.

Warren said city policy is to deny business licenses for any business that is in violation of federal law.

"We're not in the position to issue a license to conduct an illegal activity," he said. "It's still a federal crime."

Warren cited the federal Constitution's "Supremacy Clause," which states that federal laws trump state laws as the "law of the land."

According to the city's licensing department, the business license number cited by Berneburg is an out-of-city license registered to a company in Kent saying they are a management company that assists medical facilities.

However, an out-of-city license does not allow for a storefront or for anyone to conduct business within Renton city limits, making the Third Street location illegal.

Unlike many cities, the city of Renton presently has no moratorium against medical marijuana dispensaries. It is simply policy to deny licenses to businesses illegal under federal law.

"Why adopt a moratorium against something that's illegal?" Warren asked, adding that this is the first medical marijuana dispensary to open within the city.

According to a description posted on "Leafly.com," a site that offers directories of medical marijuana facilities, Tranquility Holistic Center is a "patient-to-patient collective garden" as defined by RCW 69.51a.

The site also includes a menu which gives the prices for amounts of various trains of marijuana, such as "AK-48," "Jack the Ripper" and "Original Amnesia," as well as edible marijuana-laced foods and concentrates.

The storefront has no signage and clearly stated the facility was a locked, members-only facility. A second sign on the storefront warned that city officials do not have consent to enter and that anyone in the facility will not answer questions about the activities on the premises.

Berneburg reiterated that Tranquility was a "management company" that as part of its business provides qualified patients with an opportunity to meet members of a collective garden.

"Tranquility facilitates that meeting," he said, adding that no marijuana is grown on site.

Tranquility then accepts "contributions" in exchange for the products to a common fund that keeps the garden open and viable.

"It's not anything," he said of Tranquility. "It's an agreement between sick people to help each other with their medicine.

According to Berneburg, Tranquility operates as a 10-member garden under state law. Qualified patients join up as members, receive their medicine, make their donation and then resign their membership, which allows another person to take their spot. The group keeps detailed records for this purpose, Berneburg said.

"Pick a time and I will show you we have less than 10 members," he said.

According to Berneburg, the practice is "100 percent compliant with state law" under the Division III Court of Appeals case "State vs. Shupe."

Berneburg said the city is "wrong" in choosing federal law over state law and said emphasized that the U.S. Attorney's opinion that federal law is supreme in this matter was just an opinion.

Berneburg called states the "laboratories of social change" and said until the federal government sued the State of Washington for being out of compliance, the state and cities should follow state law until the courts decide.

In a rare case of agreement between Warren and Berneburg, Warren also said the city is caught in between the state and federal governments, making it confusing to navigate this issue. He too said he would like to see the two governmental entities get together and figure out how the state and cities should respond.

"Just tell us which way to go," he said.

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