|Photo: Steve Elliott ~alapoet~|
|Cass Stewart mans the counter at Apothecary Seattle on Capitol Hill. The Seattle City Council on Monday voted to license the city’s dispensaries.|
Medical marijuana dispensaries are alive in Seattle, at least for now. The Seattle City Council, on a unanimous 8-0 vote Monday, approved an ordinance which licenses and taxes dispensaries in the city.
The ordinance now heads for the desk of Mayor Mike McGinn for his signature, reports Philip Dawdy at 4Evergreen Group. The mayor is expected to sign the ordinance.
The ordinance requires that medical cannabis dispensaries have city business licenses, pay business and occupation (B&O) taxes and be at least 1,000 feet away from schools.
Passage of the ordinance means that Seattle is now the first city in Washington state to roll back Governor Christine Gregoire’s hen-hearted veto of state-licensed dispensaries and producers, approved by the Legislature in April.
Seattle’s mayor and city attorney, along with King County’s executive and prosecutor, had all supported legalizing dispensaries and establishing a state framework for medical marijuana.
“How did we get here?” City Councilwoman Sally Clark asked before the vote. “The upshot is, [dispensaries are]here and we should regulate them,” Clark said, reports Chris Grygiel of SeattlePI.com.
Clark said that Council would come up with zoning rules for the businesses, specifying where they can locate and where they would be banned.
Activist/attorney Douglas Hiatt, who said he represents medical marijuana patients, told the Council last week that the ordinance won’t stand up in court.
“I want to applaud the City Council for taking a look at this matter …. unfortunately I must urge you to reconsider your proposal,” Hiatt said. “Go back to the drawing board. I do not believe there is any way you can pass your ordinance will stand under the law. The state’s controlled substances act pre-empts the field … Marijuana is still illegal … It’s illegal for all purposes, you cannot regulate an illegal business without a specific authority.”
“If you pass this, I will take you to court and do my very best to knock it out,” Hiatt told the Council.
Some other members of the Seattle medical marijuana community were mystified by Hiatt’s opposition to the ordinance.
“Other attorneys I’ve spoken with including City Attorney Pete Holmes tell me that they don’t see how requiring a business license for medical cannabis facilities constitutes admitting a crime under state and federal Controlled Substances Acts,” activist Philip Dawdy told Toke of the Town Monday afternoon. “I don’t see it either.”
“All that Seattle is doing is asking medical cannabis entities to comply with the same types of business operation laws as any other business must,” Dawdy told me. “On whose behalf he might sue is beyond me.”
Earlier this year, the Washington Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill, but Gregoire vetoed most of it, claiming she was worried the law would put state workers at risk of federal prosecution, even though that’s never happened in any medical marijuana state.
State laws are “not a defense” to enforcement of federal law, U.S. Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole said in a memo written earlier this year.
“Persons who are in the business of cultivating, selling or distributing marijuana, and those who knowingly facilitate such activities, are in violation of the Controlled Substances Act, regardless of state law,” Cole said.
Washington has allowed patients with qualifying conditions to use medical marijuana since voters approved it in 1998, but the federal government doesn’t recognize any medicinal use for cannabis. The bill that passed in the Legislature was intended to set clearer regulations on dispensaries, establish a licensing system, and institute a patient registry with arrest protection.
Gregoire vetoed provisions which would have licensed and regulated marijuana dispensaries. She also vetoed the provision which would have created a patient registry under the Department of Health.
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, along with the city attorney and King County’s executive and prosecutor had all supported establishing a legal framework for medical marijuana.
The new ordinance requires medical marijuana dispensaries to get business licenses, pay taxes and fees and meet city land use codes.
The “open use and display of cannabis” is prohibited at the dispensaries.
The shops would also be subject to the requirements of the city’s “Chronic Nuisance Property Law,” which means if there are repeated complaints about activity at the establishments, they could face fines or possible closure.
There are nine members on the Seattle City Council, but member Nick Licata, who sponsored the dispensary ordinance, is on vacation this week.