As the rest of the state sees recreational marijuana stores slowly open in different communities, the City of Sequim remains a question mark as to when and if a store will open.
A six-month moratorium is up for review Aug. 11 at the Sequim City Council meeting, but a majority of city councilors indicated they want to wait until the Legislature meets in 2015 and votes for revenue sharing and political changes for cities like Sequim.
David Halpern, 61, of Gardiner, was awarded the opportunity to be Sequim’s lone recreational marijuana retailer on May 2 following a double-blind lottery. He tentatively would open his Emanon Systems, Inc., at 755 W. Washington St., Suite C.
Since the announcement, Halpern’s criminal record has surfaced, which some residents, who shared via e-mail and letters to the Gazette, feel should prohibit his eligibility for a license.
On April 6, 1993, Halpern was convicted for smuggling 15 tons of supplements from Europe for illegal distribution. He was sentenced to two years in a federal medical facility in Rochester, Minn., but served six months and was released to serve one year of home detention.
Halpern, a registered sex offender in Jefferson County, was sentenced to 180 days in Santa Cruz County Jail in 1998 for one felony charge from 1994 for a lewd act with a 14-year-old girl with the intent to arouse, appeal to and gratify himself. A second sex crime charge was dropped.
However, if a moratorium is lifted in the city, all signs would point to Halpern receiving his marijuana license.
Liquor Control Board and city respond
Mikhail Carpenter, with the Washington State Liquor Control Board communications department, said they are presently not assigning investigators to areas with marijuana bans or moratoriums.
“While the law is silent on the issue of local bans, there is also nothing within the law which allows for the board to deny licenses to qualified applicants,” Carpenter said.
“We have been upfront about this from the beginning; if an applicant meets the state’s criteria for licensure, the board will issue a state license. Like any other type of business, a licensee must be in compliance with local laws and regulations.”
The Liquor Control Board uses a point system to judge applicants on their criminal history. For example, a felony conviction like Halpern’s does not qualify since it was more than 10 years ago. However, any other felony conviction up to 10 years ago would receive 12 points.
Carpenter said the board likely will not issue someone a license with eight or more points. “If the convictions are well in the past and don’t accumulate points, then the applicant would be eligible for a license,” he said.
Carpenter said if an applicant like Halpern has begun processing, he still must go through steps like a financial investigation to determine source of funds and ensure his origin, as well as the actual state/national level criminal background check.
“As part of the application process applicants had to submit an attestation of their criminal history but we are going to run their history against what they disclosed and any non-disclosures accumulate points,” he said.
City Attorney Craig Ritchie said the city wouldn’t deny Halpern a business license because of his criminal background either.
“Our licenses are not regulatory, they are revenue creating,” he said.
“Some licenses are regulatory like adult entertainment or taxi cabs or fireworks. If he were opening a preschool, then we would let people know (about his criminal history), but we wouldn’t have any authority to deny him a license.”
Despite some setbacks with the moratorium and his business site, Halpern still plans to go forward with a license.
“I’m going to get the keys in about a week,” he said. “I start paying rent on Aug. 1 and I’ll work with an architect and contractor.”
Halpern said he’s tied into a multi-year lease and his intent is to keep a business going for 15-20 years.
He’d consider not pursuing the venture if after a year he doesn’t have a city business license.
He plans to speak to city councilors Aug. 11 but he’s not sure if they will change their minds on the moratorium.
“There are a couple of people who are willing if the state share revenue with them (the city), but there’s nothing happening between now and then,” he said.
Halpern said his former business ventures didn’t face opposition in the past for his criminal record.
“Certainly both offenses were all over the papers in California,” he said. “It’s never been an impact on my business. These crimes had nothing to do with being dishonest. A lot of people might be surprised who are felons. You just don’t see the placard above their heads.”
For the marijuana retail license, Halpern said the state’s expectations are that they want someone honest.
“In my business dealings, since I was 19 and bought my parents’ health food store, I’ve never had any kind of complaint,” he said.
From his first felony, Halpern was convicted for illegally importing 15 tons of “Fountain of Youth” drugs from England and Germany to sell for millions of dollars in 43 states, Canada, Guam and the Virgin Islands.
The three basic types of drugs were cell therapies, procaine hydrochloride derivatives and sexual tonics and were promoted as a cure for depression, diabetes and more.
He was sentenced to two years in prison and three years supervised release but served only six months and one year of home detention.
“Everything I imported in is legal now,” Halpern said.
With his second felony charge, Halpern said it’s important officials know the family dynamics.
He was living with a woman in 1994 who had two daughters with two different men, he said, and the 14-year-old girl he was convicted for illegally touching lived at home every other weekend.
Halpern said the girl made sexual advances to him on the sofa but he didn’t respond.
A few years later, Halpern and the mother split up after about seven years, he said, and shortly thereafter the 14-year-old girl’s father spoke to police.
“I went in without a lawyer because I didn’t have anything to hide,” he said. “When I got done with the whole thing they said part of your stories are the same and not.”
After speaking with his lawyer, Halpern said they chose a plea bargain because he would have faced prison time in Santa Cruz, so he went to a minimum security facility and took a sex offenders class.
He was given a special work release to continue his computer business, which didn’t require any special monitoring, he said.
“I don’t believe every crime is the same even though it’s lumped into the same category,” Halpern said.
“People realize what they’ve done and that it wasn’t the right decision can live a ‘normal’ life, whatever normal is to them.”