Urban Politics #311 July 22, 2011
By City Councilmember Nick Licata
With assistance from my intern William Dow
MEDICAL CANNABIS REGULATION
This past Monday (7/18/11), the City Council unanimously approved Council Bill 117229 that I sponsored which mandates that medical cannabis providers in Seattle abide by city business rules and regulations. Medical cannabis providers, under the new ordinance, will be required to abide by business laws including:
1. Business licensing
2. Land use regulations
3. Environmental protection, historic preservation and noise regulations
4. Building and technical codes
5. Americans with Disabilities Act regulations
6. Food-service and smoking regulations
7. Chronic public nuisance regulations
8. Street and sidewalk use
9. Prohibitions on open public use
This ordinance is the City’s response to a bill passed by the Washington State Legislature earlier this year – and that will go into effect on July 22 – that permits cities to regulate and license the production, processing, or dispensing of cannabis products within their jurisdiction. Although my recent bill received a great deal of media coverage, the legislation will only make sure dispensaries across the city act like the businesses they are, and that we hold them accountable as such rather than only turning a blind eye.
This ordinance is a crucial step forward toward providing clarity for medical cannabis dispensaries in the area, particularly in wake of the new state law. While the federal government still prohibits the production, processing, dispensing, and possession of medical cannabis, responding to the state government’s new rules is a responsibility that will minimize the impact of changes to the roughly 25,000 Seattle medical cannabis users.
Some opponents of the legislation have questioned whether the City has the authority to regulate a federally prohibited substance, such as medical cannabis. The legislation in every way recognizes that there is a federal prohibition, but also takes the needed steps to ensure safety and basic standards of dispensaries in Seattle. Regardless of whether the business is illegal, we want to make sure it is not jeopardizing the rights, health or safety of the surrounding community, which is why this ordinance is so important.
Seattle has long been a tolerant city toward medical marijuana; in 2003, Initiative 75 made investigations and prosecutions of cannabis violations a low priority, there are already plenty of dispensaries within the city, and it is estimated that nearly five percent of the city’s population uses cannabis for medical reasons. This ordinance will protect them and will be a progressive next step for the users who rely on medical cannabis for pain management as well as for the businesses that make their treatment possible.
I will continue to work with Councilmembers, the Mayor and those in the medical cannabis community to look at future actions that can help us through this period of conflicting federal and state laws. Hopefully by cities and states passing new legislation that provides reasonable assurance that medical marijuana can be accessed safely for those in need, the Federal Government will revisit its current restrictive policies.
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