A lot has happened since Washington State voted to pass I-502 two years ago.
- Possession of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use is legal.
- The Washington State Liquor Control Board (WSLCB) has developed rules for regulating the production, processing, selling and delivery of recreational marijuana.
- Adults can purchase recreational marijuana at state-licensed retail stores. We have 3 stores in Seattle and 5 more will open soon.
- Washington state has collected more than $3 million in excise tax from retailers and $1.7 million from growers and processors during the first four months of pot sales, just since July.
It’s not just a free for all though. I’ve sponsored a new law that the City Council passed to clarify that it’s illegal for people to consume marijuana in public. And it is illegal to drive high or to take marijuana you bought legally here out of Washington State.
But what about medical marijuana? Well, the City has also tried to set up some interim regulations for regulating medical marijuana in the hopes that the Washington State Legislature act to pass laws to regulate medical marijuana. One of those laws states that medical marijuana businesses that have been conducting major marijuana activity since before November 16, 2013 have until July 1, 2015 (or January 1, 2016, depending on action by the state legislature), must either: (1) obtain a state-issued license or (2) stop conducting major marijuana activity. It was intended as a grace period – not an open-ended grace period for everyone, but for those businesses open before November 16, 2013 and also abiding by other city laws.
But still, of the medical-marijuana businesses that opened before November 16, 2013, and would otherwise – because of this law – be legal for the time being, some are operating without proper land use permits, some are located in places they shouldn’t be, some are licensed as businesses but haven’t paid their taxes, some are not licensed as businesses at all. And another category of medical marijuana businesses that are also in violation of this City law are those that opened after November 16, 2013. The businesses in this category are in violation of City law regardless if they got a business license, got the proper permits, and/or are paying their taxes. Though the city currently has inadequate enforcement tools, all of these businesses can be subject to enforcement action.
I believe that for I-502 to be successful, the medical marijuana industry needs additional regulation. The lack of regulation is generating increasing concerns addressed to my office from both patients and business owners alike about the potential for stepped-up federal law enforcement. A couple weeks ago, the City sent a letter to about 330 marijuana businesses last month warning that more enforcement could be coming. I was quoted in a November 6 Seattle Times article saying that the city chose a letter instead of raiding these businesses because it’s “the Seattle way” to start with a polite knock on the door, but that the message is clear: “You’re on notice.”
I believe that Olympia will act in this next session, but similar to the implementation of I-502, new regulation will probably not take effect until a year after passage. For that reason, I’m pleased that the Mayor announced today that the City of Seattle will hold a public symposium on Nov. 20 at 5pm in City Hall (Bertha Knight Landes Room) on this issue. I look forward to working with the Mayor to develop legislation to establish a common-sense regulatory framework for the regulation of medical marijuana businesses. According to the Mayor’s announcement the symposium will feature panel discussions with patient advocates and medical providers, marijuana business representatives, testing providers, and community as well as City representatives. Panel topics will include:
• Testing of marijuana products for purity and strength
• Best practices for manufacturing marijuana-infused products
• Packaging and labeling requirements
• The location of dispensaries and collective gardens
These targeted areas of discussion are a good indicator of the areas which may be subject to future City regulations.