Regulating medical marijuana

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Since the State Legislature adjourned in May I and others have been trying to figure out who won and lost when it comes to medical marijuana.  My conclusion is that just about everyone lost when the legislature and governor called an end to the 2011 session without a coherent approach to regulating access to medical marijuana.  That has left the City of Seattle in a foggy, muddy hole. (How’s that for an uncomfortable spot?) If you pick up the Stranger or Seattle Weekly you’ll see pages of advertisements for medical marijuana shops in Seattle. City staff estimate there are approximately 80 operating in Seattle, approximately 50 with a business license and the rest without one. 

We started calling them dispensaries for a while when State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles proposed a well-reasoned approach.  With the crashing and burning of well-reasoned approaches at the state level, we’re back to not knowing exactly what to call the various incarnations of small grow operations popping up along Aurora, in the University District, in SODO and elsewhere. Many seem to be perfectly reputable retail shops while others outright covers for general pot sales.  

I’ve been frustrated by the failure at the state level and am working with a crew of people here at the city to figure out a rational scheme for regulating how and where medical marijuana providers can set up shop in Seattle.  It makes sense to me that we treat legitimate medical marijuana “small grow co-ops” similar to a kind of special purpose medical clinic.  This designation already exists in the land use code, so that’s handy.  Medical clinics can’t set up in residential neighborhoods and I think that would be fair for medical marijuana grow/shops, as well.  It seems reasonable, also, to require that a proposed co-op grow/shop follow all the normal business rules – adhere to the building code, the nuisance codes, the noise code, etc. – plus have a security plan reviewed and approved by the city. It would be great if this weren’t necessary, but we’ve had break-ins and serious injuries as people not so interested in patient access to pot try to get their hands on this federally prohibited commodity.  A security plan would be important for the business and its neighbors. 

We could also consider buffers around certain other uses. I spoke recently with someone who advocated concentrating co-op grow/shops together in SODO. I’m not sure concentrating the providers in one area of town makes more sense than allowing them to be spread out in different parts of the city.  For patients, maybe scattered locations is better for access. 

A successful run at legalization could make all these questions moot, but while that effort moves forward we need answers now for the businesses popping up every day. Expect to see proposals soon on how the city might proceed.