Medical Marijuana in Seattle Faces Closure Deadline, Hopes for Extension

A deadline for medical marijuana collectives is on the books in Seattle. (Getty Images)

A Seattle deadline requiring medical marijuana collectives in the city to be licensed by the state before Jan. 1, 2015, or shut down has suddenly become a big problem … because there is no state license available to collectives.

When the state Legislature failed earlier this month to pass any bill regulating the medical marijuana market in Washington,  Seattle zoning law suddenly took on new importance.

Seattle zoning rule passed in October states: “A ‘licensed marijuana business establishment’ … is a business establishment acting in compliance with a license issued by the state for the production, processing, selling, or delivery of marijuana, marijuana-infused products, or useable marijuana under Title 69 of the Revised Code of Washington.”

And since there is no license to get, the medical marijuana community is faced with three options, says Seattle City Councilman Nick Licata, who drafted the zoning rule:

  1. Everyone can do nothing “and therefore all those stores become illegal come Jan. 1, 2015, and that means that the city, if they wish to, could start enforcing the law and force them to close down.”
  2. The City Council can add a time extension to the law.
  3. The Washington Liquor Control Board can attempt to build a regulatory structure for the medical system.

The medical community has fretted over and rejected any attempt to fold them into the recreational market and, according to a Liquor Board spokesman, the board has no authority to make up a license for medical marijuana anyway.

“I-502 (the initiative creating a legal retail marketplace) is silent on medical marijuana,” said LCB’s Mikhail Carpenter, ”and the only reason we could look at it was (if) we were directed to by the Legislature.” The board, in conjunction with the state Department of Health, did study and make recommendations for what to do with the medical market, but that’s as far as it went.

The do-nothing option is not a good one either, Licata said. Even if those operators decide that fines from the city are just the cost of doing business, that may not be their only problem.

“Maybe there are people out there who don’t see the city legitimizing them as a big deal,” he said. “The repercussions, however, are that if the city no longer says you’re legitimate … the feds may decide, ‘OK, Colorado was able to deal with it, but Washington state or Seattle has not been able to deal with it. So, we’re going to start doing raids.’”

So, clearly, the best choice for the medical community is a deadline extension that gives the Legislature time to take up the medical marijuana issue again. Licata adds that there’s a 50/50 chance right now, going on his gut feeling, that the City Council will grant an extension to July 2015.

“I would argue, hey (the Legislature) blew it, let’s give them another chance,” he said. “But that would be the final, drop-dead date. I don’t see the support there for another extension.”

And that’s all the medical folks are hoping from Seattle right now, said Philip Dawdy, media and policy director for the Washington Cannabis Association.

“I don’t think it’ll be a big, dramatic step to get an extension,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how much time the extension will be.”

Dawdy is confident the Legislature will come up with a regulatory structure for medical because, one, the next session is longer and, two, the supermajority requirement for changes to I-502 will be gone. Initiatives in Washington cannot be changed in any way during their first two years without a two-thirds majority in the Legislature.

So, in the meantime, he said his group will be knocking on City Council doors. ”We plan on talking to them about this very soon,” he said.

… and others in the medical marijuana community should take note.

“There is this dark cloud on the horizon,” Licata said, “and I’m not sure they are aware of it or not. No one from that community has come here as a representative of that community and said, ‘Hey, here’s our game plan.’ So, right now it looks like their game plan is, cross your fingers and hope no one notices.”

Medical Marijuana in Seattle Faces Closure Deadline, Hopes for Extension

Article by Jake Ellison for Seattle PI