Like every section that's left of the mostly vetoed medical-marijuana-reform law that passed in April, section 403 is vague, confusing, and inadequate to the task


Seattle's Marijuana-Garden Ordinance: The New Don't Ask, Don't Tell

Like every section that's left of the mostly vetoed medical-marijuana-reform law that passed in April, section 403 is vague, confusing, and inadequate to the task of regulating cannabis. Section 403, however, might be the single most important scrap of law to survive Gov. Chris Gregoire's veto pen.

It's from this section, after all, that the City of Seattle, just three days ago, effectively legalized medical-marijuana gardens and dispensaries (city officials prefer the term "access points"). But since the city's new law is based around that vague, confusing, inadequate bit of state law, the result, according to lawyers who defend patients and prosecutors who are duty-bound to charge people for crimes, is that cannabis patients and providers are left playing a familiar game of "don't ask, don't tell" with law enforcement.

Under the new Seattle ordinance, patients can form "collective gardens" where they can pool their resources with other patients and grow what should be enough cannabis for everyone. The law says that up to 10 patients can participate in a collective garden and each garden can hold up to 45 plants.

But it's what the law doesn't say that's perhaps most important.

The law doesn't say, for example, how many gardens one plot of land can hold or how often patients can switch gardens. This is hugely important because the difference between being able to grow one marijuana garden and many is typically the difference between operating a legitimate dispensary versus a small shared crop between friends.

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Prominent medical-marijuana attorney Aaron Pelley recently met with prosecutor Dan Satterberg to hash out a way for large-scale pot-growers to operate.
Recently, well-known cannabis-defense attorneys Aaron Pelley and Doug Hiatt met with King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and his staff to discuss these discrepancies. And from that meeting, a memo was drafted by Pelley that has now been widely circulated among cannabis providers as an unofficial "guide" for growing lots of pot without running afoul of state law.

"We wanted to provide some clarity to our clients," says Pelley. "We wanted to make some sense out of the state law."

Pelley's memo tells growers that there is no limit to the number of gardens that can be grown on one location, and there's no limit to how often or how quickly a patient can switch providers (though the law does say how quickly a provider can switch patients).

Satterberg never signed off on Pelley's memo. But he also never told him that he was wrong.

Satterberg's Deputy Chief of Staff Ian Goodhew was at the meeting with Hiatt and Pelley, and he tells Seattle Weekly that Pelley's effort attempts to "answer the main unanswered legal question: Can larger-scale dispensaries modify their businesses model to comply with law?"

"He's trying to carve out legal protections for clients--trying to bring clarity to law," Goodhew says. "What we've said is that he has plausible arguments under the statute."

The prosecutor's endorsement ends there, however, and Goodhew makes it clear that just because the law doesn't address the number of collective gardens allowed per plot of land, that doesn't make an infinite number legal. "The more people stretch the law on section 403, the more they risk having their neighbors have concerns, and the more they risk having police involved," Goodhew warns.

Of course, under all the minutiae of state-law-versus-city-law-versus-some-lawyer's-meaningless-memo, is the reality that marijuana, medical or otherwise, is wholly illegal under federal law.

Should federal prosecutors levy charges against any of the estimated 25,000 cannabis patients in Seattle, no amount of protection from any local or state law will protect them.

So for now, cannabis providers will still have to keep their growing and dispensing activities secret--never asking law enforcement if what they're doing is right and never telling anyone what they're doing who didn't ask in the first place.

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