Northwest Medical Marijuana Guide
Dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle have failed to get the proper business license, city officials say, despite city hall's best efforts to give them some sort of legal shelter.
The problems began last year when Governor Chris Gregoire vetoed most of a medical marijuana bill and let other parts of the bill become law, thereby eliminating a gray area in state law that had allowed hundreds of dispensaries to flourish. Under the new rules, dispensaries had to operate as collective gardens, but their legality was still hazy.
As cities across Washington followed suit in July by banning dispensaries from operating in their jurisdictions, Seattle mayor Mike McGinn signed a law that would allow the city to license, tax, and regulate dispensaries "just like any other business," McGinn said at the time. The gesture creates at least the appearance that the city accepts these businesses, hopefully deterring state or federal enforcement.
But three months after the law took effect, the city's Department of Finance and Administrative Services estimates that there are 105 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Seattle—however, 37 of them have failed to obtain business licenses. "We only have 68 dispensaries currently licensed in our system," says Denise Movius, a spokeswoman for the city's business licensing division. "We've gotten the names of the rest by reading The Stranger and other advertisements."
Philip Dawdy, a spokesman for the Washington Cannabis Association, says that dispensary owners may be getting bad advice. "There's at least one attorney in town advising medical cannabis outlets that they don't need to purchase a business license because they're considered nonprofits," he says, and "some people in the community are simply ignorant of the new law."
Meanwhile, Movius has been contacting the rogue dispensaries to remind them to get a business license. "We haven't had to take action to shut anyone down," she says.
The city has received at least seven complaints about dispensaries in recent months, according to spokesman Bryan Stevens of the Department of Planning and Development. "The general complaint is that the businesses are operating illegally, but about half of the sites had no violations," he says. "Three were conducting business in places where they were not permitted," including a residential area and an office building.