The City Council was told Wednesday that its proposed legislation regulating medical marijuana dispensaries won’t stand up in court.
“I want to applaud the City Council for taking a look at this matter…unfortunately I must urge you to reconsider your proposal. Go back to the drawing board,” said attorney Douglas Hiatt, who represents medical marijuana patients. “I do not believe there is any way you can pass your ordinance will stand under the law. The state’s controlled substances act pre-empts the field…Marijuana is still illegal…It’s illegal for all purposes, you cannot regulate an illegal business without a specific authority.”
Hiatt said when Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed medical marijuana legislation earlier this year, she excised language that would’ve allowed the Council to pass its own regulations.
“If you pass this, I will take you to court and do my very best to knock it out,” Hiatt said told the Council’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee.
Earlier this year the state Legislature passed a medical marijuana bill, but Gregoire rejected most of it. She said she worried the legislation put state workers at risk of federal prosecution. Evergreen State voters approved legalizing medical marijuana in 1998. Washington is one of 15 states which allows marijuana use for medical purposes, but the federal government does not recognize any medicinal use for cannabis. The bill that passed in Olympia was designed to set clearer regulations on medical marijuana use and to establish a licensing system and patient registry to protect qualifying patients, doctors and providers from criminal liability.
Gregoire vetoed provisions of the bill that would have licensed and regulated medical marijuana dispensaries and producers. She also vetoed a provision for a patient registry under the Department of Health.
Seattle’s mayor and city attorney and King County’s executive and prosecutor had all supported establishing a state framework for medical marijuana.
The ordinance before the City Council, sponsored by Councilman Nick Licata, would require medical marijuana dispensaries to obtain a business license, pay taxes and fees and meet city land use codes. They would also be subject to the requirements of the city’s “Chronic Nuisance Property Law,” meaning if there are repeated complaints about activity at the establishments they could face fines or possible closure. The “open use and display of cannabis” would also be prohibited at the dispensaries.
Not all people testifying Wednesday believed the Council’s effort was in vain. A University District resident urged the Council to come up with zoning rules for medical marijuana shops so neighborhoods like his aren’t overrun with dispensaries.