Washington Marijuana Dispensaries Fight For Licensing

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  1. Knowledge

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    The city of Federal Way, Washington, just south of Seattle, is trying to shut down three medical marijuana dispensaries, claiming they are illegal under state law. Two of the businesses are fighting back, appealing the city's denial of their business licenses.

    Federal Way city officials claim they are trying to enforce the state's medical marijuana law, but they may run out of time if the Legislature changes that law in the coming weeks, reports Steve Maynard at The Tacoma News Tribune.

    The state Senate approved a bill on March 2 that would legalize and license medical marijuana dispensaries in the state. The bill has now moved to the House.

    ​ Current state law is unclear regarding dispensaries, according to Brad Ecklund, manager of Conscious Care Cooperative in Federal Way.

    "The law neither makes room for it nor says you can't do it," Ecklund said. "It's a gray area."

    The Federal Way showdown illustrates how Washington cities vary in their interpretation and enforcement of the state's medical marijuana law, approved by voters in 1998.

    In Tacoma, the city council decided in October to suspend the city's attempt to shut down eight dispensaries until the Legislature could clarify the law.

    "Tacoma made at least a compassionate move, saying 'Let's give these guys time so the Legislature can do its job,' " Ecklund said.

    In Fife last Tuesday, the city council fell one vote short of the five-vote supermajority needed to approve a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. With two members not attending, the council voted 4-1 in favor of the supposed "emergency" moratorium. The council is scheduled to vote again on the issue on Tuesday, March 15.

    Given the supposed emergency nature of Fife's dispensary moratorium, one might expect that a bunch of them have opened locally. But the city has no dispensaries at all. Mayor Barry Johnson, who voted for the measure, claimed it is needed top give the city more time to "make our own decision for what's best for the community," including potential zoning of the businesses.

    The ballot measure approved by voters in 1998 allows patients to grow cannabis for their own use, or to designate a provider to grow it on their behalf, as long as providers serve "only one patient at a time."

    The City of Federal Way claims the law means that a provider may distribute medical marijuana to only one person.

    "I think there's a difference in interpretation of the state law," City Attorney Pat Richardson admitted. "We want businesses to be operating legally."

    If a dispensary bill is approved by the Legislature, the city would take a look at the revised law, she said. "It's still not law so we're moving forward under the current law," Richardson said.

    Federal Way denied business licenses for two marijuana dispensaries, Conscious Care Cooperative and Cascade Medical Center. The third, G.A.M.E. Collective, never applied for a business license, according to city officials.

    All three shops are on a three-mile stretch between the 29000 and 34000 blocks of Pacific Highway South in Federal Way.

    The city maintains that marijuana dispensaries are illegal under both state and federal law, and says it can fine the businesses up to $500 a day for operating without a license.

    It issued cease-and-desist orders to Conscious Care and G.A.M.E., which is short for Greenpiece Alternative Medicine and Education. The city did not issue an order against Cascade, because it didn't believe the business was operating -- but Cascade manager Dave Madrid said last week the shop is dispensing medical marijuana.

    The city would make arrests and pursue charges if it thinks it could win a case in court, according to Federal Way Police Commander Stan McCall. But he said police are waiting for a hearing examiner's ruling on the licensing issue before "taking further action."

    Conscious Care's appeal is scheduled for review by a hearing examiner on March 23.

    Ecklund said his cooperative signed up more than 250 new medical marijuana patients in Federal Way in February alone.

    The shop has also already been a victim of crime. Someone broke in on the early morning of February 27 and took the safe, according to Ecklund. Police found it in Tacoma later that week with thousands of dollars missing, he said.

    Cascade has also appealed its business license denial to a hearing examiner, and a hearing on that appeal is set for March 30, according to Madrid.

    The hearing examiner's ruling could be appealed to the Federal Way City Council and then to King County Superior Court.

    McCall claimed the three dispensaries are "selling marijuana illegally."

    "Our primary concern is public safety, what's in the best interests of the city and upholding the law," he said, failing to explain how arresting medical marijuana providers improves "public safety."

    Federal Way Police Chief Brian J. Wilson claimed police have made arrests "related to the operations" of medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. He declined to be more specific, claiming "ongoing investigations," evidently hoping that sounded more "mysterious" than "clueless."
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