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Are Medical Pot Dispensaries Legal In Washington? Depends On Where You Are

Hansi Lo Wang

The special session in Olympia is winding down. There are only a few days left for state lawmakers to answer this question: Is it legal to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Washington? Right now, cities have their own rules. And in neighboring cities, like Seattle and Shoreline, it may even depend on which side of the street you're on. KUOW's Hansi Lo Wang has our story.


Wang: "I'm standing here along 145th Street. It's a dividing line between the cities of Shoreline and Seattle, and it's also a dividing line between where medical marijuana dispensaries and collectives can and cannot open right now."

That's an important distinction for Patrick. He runs a medical marijuana collective on the Shoreline side of 145th Street.

Patrick: "You know, ideally, I would have rather been across the street in the city of Seattle."

Collectives and dispensaries are places where patients can get marijuana with approval from their doctors. Patrick's lawyer advised him not to give his last name.

Wang: "Is it your license being revoked currently?"

Patrick: "Um, you know, I'm not really at liberty to talk about that right now. I kind of have to, I mean, my lawyer advised me to just not really speak about the Shoreline situation."

The Shoreline situation, as Patrick calls it, is tricky because the city denied a business license application for his medical marijuana collective. Even though collectives and dispensaries are nonprofits, they are still required to get a business license to operate. Patrick plans to appeal Shoreline's decision.

Meanwhile, his collective has served almost 500 medical marijuana patients since opening on May 1, but he's not sure if it's worth staying in Shoreline.

Patrick: "You wake up every day, it's like, should you go full–speed ahead, or should you be hesitant and just wait to see what happens the next day? It really makes you definitely think about it twice every single day."

Shoreline has thought twice about the legalities of dispensaries and collectives. The city initially gave them business licenses but then started revoking them. Shoreline city officials say they're waiting for clarification from Olympia before deciding what to do next.

Shoreline is one of several cities in the Puget Sound region that have taken a more conservative stance on this issue. But south of 145th Street in Seattle, dispensaries and collectives operate in a more liberal legal environment. Brandon DuBois and his business partner Bryan Gabriel run a medical marijuana dispensary in North Seattle.

DuBois: "What a nerve–wracking day! It has been a lot of, it's a lot of stress getting to this point."

They've just given a tour to some staff from the City Council and City Attorney's Office. Those officials are trying to figure out how to regulate the industry locally. DuBois says if you're going to open a medical marijuana dispensary, Seattle is the place to be.

DuBois: "We feel like we're strategically placed in the city. The city of Seattle is comfortable with everything we're doing, and they know that there's patients out there that need to get to their meds."

DuBois says he and his co–owner have been waiting to receive a Seattle business license since their dispensary opened in February. But the city says it just received an application from the dispensary on May 20.

City officials say they know there are dispensaries and collectives operating in Seattle without business licenses. It's a problem they hope to address in the coming months. Whatever the state Legislature decides, Seattle and other cities across Washington will still have to craft their own rules on who's allowed to sell medical marijuana.

For KUOW News, I'm Hansi Lo Wang.

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