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Confusing Changes For Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

Liz Jones

Some changes to Washington state's medical marijuana law kick in today (Friday). Meanwhile, several cities, counties and marijuana providers are still trying to make sense of the new guidelines. KUOW's Liz Jones reports.


Medical marijuana dispensaries have popped up all over the state in the past couple years. But now, a change in state law clearly makes dispensaries illegal. Instead, the state authorizes so–called collective gardens for up to 10 medical marijuana patients.

Dawdy: "You know, I'm getting phones calls constantly from people saying, what do I do, what do I do, what do I do?"

That's Philip Dawdy. He worked with the Washington Cannabis Association during the legislative session. He helped push for legislation that would create a statewide system to regulate medical marijuana.

Dawdy says Governor Gregoire's partial veto of the bill has created a gigantic mess. Cities and counties are interpreting the law differently. Dawdy says some are taking a lenient approach while others are moving toward bans on the gardens.

Dowdy: "It's going to depend on what jurisdiction you're in, and what county you're in, and what attitude your county prosecutor has. We may have 39 different versions of this for each county. It's frustrating. It's very frustrating."

Kent, Shoreline and Everett are among the cities that have put a moratorium on the gardens.

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council passed a measure this week to clarify the city's approach. Pete Holmes is the City Attorney:

Holmes: "All we've tried to say is that as long as you're in compliance with all city licensing and code requirements, we're not going to bother you."

Part of the change from dispensary to collective garden means providers will need to track where the pot is grown and the patients who get it. The state will no longer maintain a patient registry.

Holmes says that registry helped protect patients from arrest.

Holmes: "You could simply show your card and the officer could access this registry and then on the basis of that information not even arrest the patient. So that went away with the governor's veto, and how these providers will have to maintain their patient lists is a separate question."

Holmes says talks with federal prosecutors lead him to believe patients will be safe if they're seriously ill, have a medical prescription and grow their own small amounts. The rest of the dispensary and collective garden business is still a gray area.

I asked State Attorney Rob McKenna's office for clarification on this state law. But a spokesman responded that his office is not involved in this issue.

Phillip Dawdy expects legislators will tackle this law again next year. Until then, he anticipates some providers will shut down or operate more discretely in many places, but not all.

Dawdy: "We may end up creating a system here where effectively Seattle and a few cities around Seattle are the safe haven for medical marijuana, and that's it until next year."

Safe haven may be a misleading term, considering medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

I'm Liz Jones, KUOW News.

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