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.
The 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?
Washington’s Cannabis Dispensaries – Muddy Waters,