City on track for proposed medical marijuana legislation by end of year

Evan Bush, Seattle Times

The city of Seattle hosted a medical marijuana forum Thursday night as it prepares to change how it regulates the industry. The forum included industry activists, health-care officials, laboratory experts and other stakeholders.

David Mendoza, who advises Mayor Ed Murray on marijuana issues, moderated the event and reiterated the mayor’s commitment to addressing the issue.

“We will have legislation on medical marijuana by the end of the year,” said Mendoza. “The mayor will have a more specific announcement in a week or so.”

Although medical-marijuana businesses are proliferating, they operate in a legally gray and largely unregulated space in Seattle. Medical marijuana operators and stakeholders discussed industry challenges and how they hope the city approaches regulation in wide-ranging panel discussions on marijuana testing, labeling, location issues and community impact.

Panelists pushed for better testing of medical marijuana, but cautioned against following the Liquor Control Board’s testing model in the recreational market.

“(Initiative) 502 came along at a time to regulate one specific use (recreation) of one type of end product,” said Jeremy Kaufman, a board member of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics.

“We need to really look at the regulations, look at 502, talk not just to lab folks, but to patients,” said Bobby Hines, who co-owns Confidence Analytics, a testing laboratory. Hines said data from the recreational market show more than 10 percent of samples fail Liquor Control Board standards. Hines said his tests highlight the need to educate growers on how mold and bacteria can proliferate in growing environments.

In a discussion on edibles and packaging, Dr. Leslie Walker of Seattle Children’s said the hospital has seen a “steady increase in marijuana toxic ingestion” among kids. She and other panelists pushed for labeling standards that hewed closer to what the state requires in the recreational market.

“Child-proof packaging should be a requirement,” said Ben Reagan, of the Center for Palliative Care.

Kristin Nevedal of Americans for Safe Access said testing requirements for medical marijuana must be addressed for labeling to be effective for patients.

“Until we have standardized lab testing in the medical marketplace, we’re going to have a hard time with standard labeling,” she said.

A discussion of mapping and distance requirements showed how difficult it is to locate marijuana businesses. Although marijuana is illegal at the federal level, the government has indicated businesses need to be 1,000 feet from schools, said John Schochet of the City Attorney’s office. But Schochet said the feds have changed priorities over the past few years and are difficult to interpret.

“There aren’t clear legal answers,” said Schochet.

Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, who founded the Dockside Co-Op, said it’s difficult but not impossible to find a location that adheres to Seattle zoning rules and federal guidelines.

He said it’s crucial for marijuana businesses to “go see who your neighbor is” and be connected to the surrounding community.

In a discussion on race and youth, panelists argued that racial disparity still leaves some communities, and kids, hurting.

Karen Pillar, an attorney at Team Child, said black children are expelled and suspended for drug offenses at rates several times the average. She said expulsion is a “death penalty” for student’s education because it emphasizes disconnection when kids need help. “It’s exactly the opposite of what we need to do.”