Northwest Marijuana Guide
On October 7, the Seattle City Council passed a bill that may effectively ban medical marijuana dispensaries within the city limits by requiring them to obtain a state medical marijuana license by 2015—a license that does not exist.
Roughly a dozen speakers pleaded with the council in testimony that day, including Alex Cooley, vice president of Solstice, which operates a medical marijuana growing facility in Sodo. "Requiring medical [marijuana dispensaries] to have a license when the license does not exist is completely unfair," Cooley argued.
But the council had apparently already made up its mind.
The week before, all nine council members signed a letter stating their intentions to the governor. The letter telegraphed a strategy to nix medical cannabis dispensaries, in essence, by requiring them to obtain the same licenses and abide by the same regulations as recreational pot stores, which were legalized last fall by Initiative 502. Currently, more than 100 medical dispensaries operate in Seattle; the state is expected to license only 21 recreational pot stores in the city by next year.
"If relatively easy access to medical cannabis continues, the goals and potential of Initiative 502 will be undermined," the council wrote. After expressing the city's interest in regulating the pot markets, the council went on, "This could mean combining the general adult cannabis market and the medical cannabis market into a single, regulated system."
But, in testimony before the vote, activists argued the council would violate voter intent. The initiative to legalize adult recreational pot last fall was not supposed to reduce patients' access to medical marijuana. By shunting dispensaries into the same handful of tiny zones where recreational stores will be allowed, and by requiring stores to have a state license (either one of just 21 recreational licenses or a theoretical dispensary license, which, again, does not exist), the council is using the recreational pot law as an excuse to gut medical marijuana.
But bill sponsor Nick Licata insisted it's not the council's "intent" to ban dispensaries completely. He said the legislature could create a medical marijuana license next year that would allow dispensaries in Seattle to stay open. Licata said the council's bill was "a little nudge to the state to do something." However, that's entirely speculative. Olympia already failed once, in 2011, to approve dispensary licenses. The legislature is also famously hostile to Seattle interests. And a legislative work group is trying to ban dispensaries outright. (See page 23.) Licata said the city could revisit the issue if the state fails to issue medical marijuana licenses, but that also seems unlikely. The council made its intentions clear in that letter: to eliminate medical dispensaries, or limit the places they can open, so they don't compete with recreational pot outlets.