Washington’s Cannabis Dispensaries – Muddy Waters

Rambo June 17, 2012 13
Washington’s Cannabis Dispensaries – Muddy Waters

Like many medical marijuana states, Washington is now confronted with the daunting task of implementing medicinal cannabis law and regulations within the state. Conflicting federal and state laws have posed a major challenge for legislators seeking to regulate and standardize safe access to medical marijuana and the facilities that dispense it.

While technically speaking, Washington State law does not permit dispensaries, the law does establish provisions for ‘collective gardens.’ This term has been broadly interpreted to include de facto dispensaries. These ‘collective gardens’ allow up to 10 patients to grow as many as 45 plants in a cooperative garden. The interpretation of ‘collective gardens’ to include dispensaries has not yet been challenged in court, though this will likely be addressed to some extent in several upcoming criminal cases.

Last year Washington State lawmakers passed a measure calling for state-licensed dispensaries. Governor Chris Gregoire dodged her responsibility and vetoed most of the bill. The resulting legislation, which has now taken effect, leaves dispensary regulation up to local jurisdictions. As city councils around Washington take up the issue, we find a hodge podge of interpretations and dismally unequal access for patients.

On May 8th, the city of Bellevue finally stepped in and approve medical marijuana “collective gardens” on an interim basis in some parts of the city. City officials stated, “The zoning ordinance — which only allows the gardens in areas zoned light industrial, general commercial and medical institution and prohibits them within 1,000 feet of schools and churches.” From what I have seen in California, this seems to be a pretty standard zoning for most areas that permit dispensaries.

The Tacoma task force, commissioned with creating regulations for its dozens of cannabis dispensaries, is creating a broader regulatory framework. Its report will address issues ranging from zoning, permitting and security as well as a range of issues from acceptable hours of operations and age requirements for employees and members.

Some cities have thwarted the will of the people by simply adopting a zero-tolerance policy on the ground that federal law trumps state law on all cannabis related matters.

Back on March 15 three Bellingham medical cannabis cooperatives were shut down and employees arrested when Bellingham Police raided Northern Cross, The Joint Cooperative, and KGB Collective. The raids came after all three collectives were ordered by Bellingham Police to cease operation of their businesses on March 9. When the collectives continued operating on suspended business registrations, the businesses were operating in violation of municipal code. The letters informed the collectives that “business activities involving the sale and distribution of marijuana” violate Washington state law, and “therefore constitute criminal behavior.”

Mostly recently, on June 6th, Kent city council members voted 4 to 3 to permanently ban medical marijuana dispensaries and collective gardens in Kent. Despite an outpouring from the community against the ban, Bill Boyce, Dana Ralph, Les Thomas and Deborah Ranniger voted in favor of the ban. Boyce stated, “For me, I cannot get beyond the federal law; I cannot get beyond that.” Dispensary bans like those in Kent are taking place more often then you might think. Our representatives are surely caught in a tough situation, a catch 22 as it were.

Greenside MedicalThe City of Seattle is working on additional regulations and zoning ordinances which may affect existing dispensaries. I spoke with one of the managers at Greenside Medical about the current atmosphere surrounding in Seattle cannabis dispensaries. He told us, “I feel like the City of Seattle has been a lot more receptive to dispensaries then in other areas, but even though local law enforcement says they have our backs, our customers are still concerned they might lose access to their medicine. They ask us every day if what is happening to dispensaries in Bellingham and Kent might happen here. We honestly don’t know the answer.”

I asked if he thought they would end up with patients from the Kent area since the ban on dispensaries last week. As I suspected, he said, “Not all of those patients have access to reliable transportation, many of them will not be able to visit the dispensaries like ours in Seattle. Many of them will be forced to purchase cannabis off the streets.”

I asked about the possibility of a delivery services that might help patients in the Kent area, but their legal counsel has advised Greenside Medical against doing deliveries. Despite the topsy turvy world of the medicinal cannabis industry, the crew at Greenside seems to have their ducks in a row. We wish them and their patients the very best.

Unfortunately for every Seattle there is a Kent, and despite some victories the medicinal cannabis community has not done enough. Even in states like Washington where medical cannabis laws have been passed and enacted, intimidated members of local government ban or create moratoriums on dispensaries in fear of federal government reprisal. This is a lose lose situation for both the community and local government who faces expensive lawsuits. Access to cannabis at safe, and at least semi regulated dispensaries is limited to areas where city councils has the cajones to stand up for the rights of their constituents.

At the end of the day, our local and state representatives need to be reminded that they don’t work for the federal government, they work for us. I might add that, in a democracy, the federal government is supposed to work for us as well. We might want to remind them in October. Unfortunately, it is only Ron Paul’s platform that supports our cause. What are we to do?

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  1. Rachel Linn June 19, 2012 at 10:35 pm -

    “What are we to do?” Write an article that educates and informs the public on important issues. “the crew at Greenside seems to have their ducks in a row. We wish them and their patients the very best”. Not an article doubling as an advertisement for some cool guys you know in the medical marijuana industry.

  2. Rambo June 20, 2012 at 9:33 pm -

    Rachel, I can assure you that none of us know anyone at Greenside or at any other dispensaries in the Seattle area. They were however gracious enough to grant us a short phone interview, a courtesy which several other dispensaries in the area declined. If you would like to write an article that “educates and informs” feel free to submit one to us. We would be happy to post it on our page.

  3. Darrel October 27, 2012 at 11:43 am -

    It’s the,”Wild wild west” out here.

  4. B December 28, 2012 at 8:03 am -

    You from Humboldt County? Or near there…I just was up in Trinity back in WA tho.

    • Rambo December 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm -

      We are all originally from Mendocino County but have since dispersed to various parts of northern California.

  5. Phlem Mucous June 21, 2013 at 8:35 am -

    I want to clarify that Federal law is not supposed to trump state law.

    But we can compare that with the fact that the president is not supposed to go to war but has already castrated congress numerous times on that issue and just goes along with wars that they don’t call wars.

    Or sends support to Al Qaeda in Libya and currently in Syria while simultaneously looking down our wife’s and daughter’s panties at the airports for those very scoundrels.

    So of course it ends up resulting in the Feds trumping state law simply because they are criminal themselves and we are living in a rapidly growing police state world that is speeding up due to the coming economic collapse.

    But in the context of this and other similar articles where state’s rights are concerned, let’s not forget (may it rest in peace) that the 10th Ammendment is SUPPOSED TO EXIST although it has been placed in a grave along with the others such as the 1st and 4th and they are right now poisoning and shooting darts into the 2nd.

  6. KennyD September 23, 2013 at 8:52 am -

    It throws out the credibility of the whole article out the window when you get the gender of Washington’s then Governor wrong. Chris Gregoire is a woman, not a man. “Governor Chris Gregoire dodged his responsibility and vetoed most of the bill.”

    • Rambo September 24, 2013 at 8:51 am -

      Thanks for the correction.

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  11. DJArmstrong August 7, 2014 at 6:48 pm -

    WE the people representing medical mj years ago…and look what’s happened. WE started the movement and it’s taken years and votes and they still HAVE IT WRONG!!!
    What can WE do here on the East side of the state Colfax, Pullman area. It’s law that you CANNOT seperate the state. If it’s OK on the West side…then it’s good for the East side.