Seattle’s Proposed License for Dispensaries Sparks Debate

By Cassandra Dowell Marijuana Investor News

News of proposed legislation to bring Seattle’s unregulated medical marijuana industry into the fold of the recreational marijuana market has divided some of the city’s marijuana advocates, with some saying the legislation will only hurt patients.

The office of Seattle Mayor Ed Murray issued a statement May 26, 2015, describing proposed legislation to grant a new regulatory license to existing Initiative 502 businesses. Medical marijuana dispensaries will also be required to get the city’s Title 6 marijuana regulatory license, but merging Seattle’s marijuana markets may mean half of the city’s dispensaries are shut down. The proposed legislation comes on the heels of the state’s passage of SB 5052, which essentially rolled the state’s medical marijuana program into adult use cannabis.

Since the passage of Initiative 502 in 2012, Seattle has seen the number of unregulated medical marijuana establishments double to nearly 100, according to the city.

“Before the legislation was introduced, the medical shops were operating illegally anyway under city rules,” explained Puget Sound Business Journal. “The new rules will give them a way to come into compliance. Once the legislation passes there will be no legal framework that medical marijuana shops can operate under in the city of Seattle. All marijuana shops in the city will have Title 6 licenses [by July 2016] or be shut down.”

However, medical dispensaries that opened in Seattle after January 1, 2013, would not qualify for a city license. Those dispensaries would need to cease operations, even if they won a license from the state.

Patients and advocacy groups argue the proposed legislation will limit the availability of strains with high CBD content and other products that are specifically designed for patients. CBD has been shown to produce many of the medicinal benefits of cannabis while suppressing or balancing the psychoactive effects of THC.

National nonprofit medical cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access is monitoring the proposed legislation in Seattle closely, Christopher W. Brown, press secretary for Americans for Safe Access, told MJI News.

“We will have to wait and see what the real life impact on patients will be, and if the shuttering of half of the city’s existing dispensaries significantly harms patient access, remedial steps will have to considered to re-establish the level of access patients have relied upon to treat their medical conditions,” Brown said.

Those who support the legislation say it will provide safe and consistent products for patients, not limit their options. “The recreational businesses will provide what their customers demand,” Ian Eisenberg, owner of Uncle Ike’s Pot Shop in Seattle, told MJINews. “You might not be able to find gummy bears and lollipops [infused with cannabis], but now patients will be assured they have safe access to safe products.”

The enforcement plan bans marketing products that appeal to children, which is already enforced in the legal recreational market. Edibles such as cookies and brownies will still be available. The mayor’s proposal will go to Seattle’s city council in June.