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Seattle Seeks To License Marijuana Dispensaries

Amy Radil

The Seattle City Council's Health committee has approved a measure that would license medical marijuana businesses. Seattle's approach is a striking contrast to surrounding cities, which are banning the dispensaries entirely.


The Seattle City Council's Health committee passed the new business regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries with little debate Wednesday. Members stated that time is of the essence since the state's new law regulating medical marijuana takes effect on July 22.

Darcy DuComb with the Seattle City Attorney's Office says the new law allows cities to regulate production of medical marijuana. But federal authorities have stated recently that marijuana remains illegal and compliance with state or local laws is not a defense.

DuComb: "What does this mean for us? We are completely stuck in the middle. We are stuck between federal prohibition and state authorization. And so, what are our options?"

Surrounding cities have reacted by banning what was a rapidly growing number of medical marijuana dispensaries. DuComb says the Seattle City Attorney wants to navigate this middle ground differently, first by treating medical marijuana dispensaries like other businesses. However, the new ordinance makes no statement on the legality of the dispensaries. DuComb calls it a "don't ask, don't tell" policy.

DuComb: "We've got to get basic compliance with our basic community standards. And it's not a defense to our regulatory environment that you're an illegal business."

Councilmember Bruce Harrell supported the ordinance, but expressed concerns that the dispensaries will supply marijuana to minors. DuComb noted that minors have been given prescriptions for medical marijuana. But she said King County Prosecutor Dan Satterburg will look at any growers that supply minors for recreational use.

Councilmember Sally Clark said the current rule is trying to bring more order to the dispensaries, which under the new state law must reorganize themselves to become "collective gardens" or cooperatives.

Clark: "It's really focused on just trying to capture what's happening in the community right now, try to be very clear about the fact that we expect these agencies and the collective grow operations, cooperatives, to be good neighbors and observe the rules of the road in Seattle."

But Douglas Hiatt, a longtime marijuana defense attorney, said the city's new ordinance would make growers more vulnerable to federal prosecution, and he may sue to strike it down.

Hiatt: "As much as I would love to have these regulations in place, as much as I would love to be here supporting you guys, I must tell you that if you pass this I will take you to court and do my very best to knock it out."

Dispensary owners who spoke before the council said they'd reviewed the new state law and did not share Hiatt's concerns. The licensing bill now goes to the full council. Councilmembers say they may also look at zoning rules for the dispensaries at a later time.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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