Creative Commons Doug Hiatt
With a stated intent of helping to "protect city businesses and neighborhoods," what's described as "an intergovernmental team consisting of City staff and representatives from the Mayor's office, City Councilmembers and the City Attorney," announced yesterday a proposal to establish zoning regulations for growing, processing, and dispensing medical marijuana in Seattle.
Creative Commons Doug Hiatt
Included in these areas would be single family and multifamily residential zones, neighborhood commercial zones, along with areas of Pioneer Square, the International District, Pike Place Mixed, and Harborfront neighborhoods. The proposal would limit medical marijuana activity in these areas to what the state medical marijuana law allows for a single user - as opposed to allowing the pooling of individual collective gardens under one roof.
The proposal will be open to public feedback from citizens in December when it's considered by the Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee, which is chaired by Nick Licata, who is in favor of such zoning regulations.
Under the proposal, according to the press release, the growing, processing, or dispensing of cannabis in the aforementioned areas would be limited to 45 plants, 72 ounces of useable pot, and "an amount of cannabis product that could reasonably be produced with 72 ounces of useable cannabis."
City officials are portraying the proposal as a win-win proposition for medical marijuana patients and the community.
"Medical marijuana providers operate in a grey area between city, state and federal law," Mayor Mike McGinn said in the press release. "This proposal is an attempt to better define appropriate operations for dispensaries. We look forward to hearing from the public on this approach."
"I support safe and responsibly run access points for medical cannabis in Seattle; it's important that these access points be subject to zoning laws and other city regulations just like any other business or land use," City Attorney Pete Holmes added.
"We want to create standards now so that we don't repeat what is happening in Los Angeles, where law enforcement raids shut down operations of good and bad businesses alike and eventually City Council banned dispensaries altogether because there were few standards in LA to hold operators accountable," offered Licata in the same press release. "For this reason, I hope access point operators and neighborhood residents will agree that they each can benefit from the consistency and accountability that these regulations will provide."
However, as should come as no great shock to those who follow the marijuana debate in Washington, not everyone is thrilled about the proposal.
Anthony Martinelli, spokesman for Sensible Washington, a nonprofit political committee with a goal of ending marijuana prohibition, says the new regulation would put a serious damper on the ability of current medical marijuana access points utilizing the grouped collective garden model to meet the needs of patients.
"It would force collectives within the stated zones to limit their quantity of medicine to an amount that's not likely to be tenable for locations that have grown to serve a large or even moderate number of patients," says Martinelli. "The city is revoking the ability of these collectives to share resources in order to expand their operations, which city and state law doesn't currently prohibit. This is likely to decrease access, increasing the difficulty of obtaining medicine, especially hindering those patients with more debilitating conditions."
Douglas Hiatt, a longtime marijuana defense attorney and founder of Sensible Washington, was caught off guard by the announcement, and offered only harsh words about it when reached by telephone.
"It's ridiculous, because they don't have the authority to do this," says Hiatt of the proposal. "The State Controlled Substances Act preempts the field when it comes to the regulation of controlled substances."
"I think it's happening now because of the [DEA letters to 23 local medical marijuana access points last month deemed to be too close to places children congregate]. They're trying to gin up -pardon the pun - some kind of response to the feds," says Hiatt.
This isn't a new argument for Hiatt. In December Hiatt filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle questioning previous efforts to regulate and license the ever-expanding medical marijuana industry, based on the same argument; in laymen's terms, he contends the city can't regulate something that's technically illegal. However, that lawsuit has yet to be argued in court, with Hiatt telling Seattle Weekly that Monday's announcement makes the matter all the more pressing.
"They don't even know if they've got the authority to do this. That hasn't been tested in court yet, and I believe very clearly that they don't," says Hiatt. "It's clear you cannot regulate illegal activities, and under our state law marijuana is still illegal, all the time, everywhere. You can't regulate it like this unless you legalize it, or legalize the sale of it under state law, and they haven't done that."
"It's just another set of hoops, and another set of restrictions, and it's just not right," Hiatt continues. "If they want to do this kind of regulation, they need to legalize it."
If a vocal proponent of marijuana legalization arguing against city-led zoning regulations ostensibly designed to provide guidance for the operation of medical marijuana access points sounds a little strange, well, welcome to the bizarre point in history - and the marijuana debate - that we find ourselves in.
"Nothing about medical marijuana is legal. All you have is an affirmative defense. The collective gardens are an affirmative defense, and those collective gardens aren't legal, but they are defensible, and you have an excuse for breaking the law if you go into court," explains Hiatt of the current convoluted state of things in Washington. "[Collective gardens are] defensible under the criminal law, but they're not regulatable under the civil law, because it's not legal. That's the distinction that keeps getting blurred here.
"This is a complicated, fucked up mess. This is just crazy. ... It makes me sick."
Previously on The Daily Weekly:
Responsible Marijuana Project Readies for The Launch of 'Operation Green Light'