Iconic gangster Al Capone ran illegal rackets for years before the federal government finally managed to send him to prison. And in the end, the charge wasn't murder, arms dealing, or racketeering. It was tax evasion.
Seattle City Councilmember Nick Licata says Capone's conviction is a similar concept to what will let the city of Seattle tax and regulate medical-marijuana dispensaries, despite the fact that they are illegal in the federal government's eyes.
Licata is sponsoring an ordinance that attempts to take the shreds of the medical-marijuana-reform bill that was mostly vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire and turn it into something it was made to do: legalize medical-marijuana dispensaries.
"Al Capone was sent to prison because he didn't pay his taxes," says Licata. "The government never said what you are doing is legal. They just said 'You're not paying taxes.' What we're doing is similar. We're just trying to do is to avoid a proliferation of marijuana shops everywhere."
Councilmember Nick Licata thinks the Capone method may get medical-marijuana dispensaries "legalized" in Washington.
The proposed ordinance shies away from labeling medical-marijuana as "legal." In fact, it goes to great pains to say "the issuance of any other permit or license by the City, shall not be deemed as approval or permission from the City of Seattle to engage in any activity deemed illegal under any applicable law, nor shall it constitute a determination by the City that the manufacture, production, processing, possession, transportation, delivery, dispensing, application, or administration of and use of cannabis engaged in by the licensee or permittee is either legal or illegal under state or federal law."
Instead, like Capone's prosecution, the law focuses on taxes and essentially says that the city won't ask questions on whether one's businesses may or may not include dispensing medical-marijuana under existing state law, as long as one applies for a business license and pays taxes.
Not everyone is convinced that the city's gangster approach will work.
Marijuana-rights attorney/gadfly Doug Hiatt tells Seattle Weekly that with or without stating explicitly whether medical-marijuana dispensaries are legal, the city of Seattle "simply can't regulate an illegal substance."
"They are claiming the authority from SB 5073 gives them the ability to regulate medical marijuana," says Hiatt. "That's not the case. Nick Licata's ordinance is well intentioned, but the city simply doesn't have the authority."
Licata obviously disagrees.
"First of all, this ordinance would not stop feds from enforcing federal law," Licata says. "We don't know what will happen. I and other councilmembers feel that this is the least we can do."