The Seattle City Council unanimously approved an extension Tuesday for medical pot businesses that would allow them to continue to operate after Jan. 1, 2015, the current deadline for businesses to obtain a state-issued license and comply with Seattle code.
All nine council members approved the bill, which pushes the deadline for compliance to either July 1, 2015 or Jan. 1, 2016, depending on the state Legislature’s actions on medical marijuana this legislative session.
Last October, the council voted to allow medical marijuana businesses opened before Nov. 16, 2013 to continue until the end of this year with the expectation the state would address medical marijuana laws.
But last session, the state Legislature failed to reconcile medical marijuana businesses with its new legal system. This left medical marijuana businesses unlicensed and largely unregulated. With just one state-licensed recreational store open in Seattle and little supply on the market, their products continue to be in high demand for patients with authorization cards.
The medical marijuana community championed the council’s action during public comment before the vote, but one pot entrepreneur pushed the council for more time.
“I do not feel six months is appropriate amount of time,” said Alex Cooley of Solstice. “There is no real-world situation in which state would be able to pass and create a license system in six months time.”
Councilmember Nick Licata, who introduced the bill, acknowledged that six months might not be enough time for the state to decide medical pot’s fate. He also said Seattle must address medical businesses that began operating after November 2013, and are not allowed under city ordinance.
Councilmember Sally Clark said she thought the extension was “the right path for now” but indicated that medical pot businesses would have to fold into the state-licensed system down the road.
“At some point, many of those doors are going to have to close. That’s a reality. If we want (Initiative) 502 to exist and be successful, we need medical to be recognized and in the system,” said Clark.
She likened regulating pot under legalization to building an airplane while flying. Council President Tim Burgess seized on the analogy.
“Sometimes when you’re building the airplane while they’re flying — they crash,” he said. Burgess then reiterated the importance of bringing medical marijuana under the state’s regulatory system.
“You can’t have three systems: regulated, licensed, taxed; a medical system in the gray zone; and a black market,” he said. “It’s not in our interest for that to happen.”
Burgess also seconded Licata’s urgency to deal with medical businesses that opened after the city allowed.
“Medical dispensaries that started after Nov. 2013 — they are really operating at their own peril,” he said. “Not only are they violating land use code, but they’re opening themselves up to criminal investigation.”