Last December Douglas Hiatt, the longtime marijuana defense attorney and founder of Sensible Washington, filed a lawsuit against the City of Seattle, contending that the city's efforts to license medical marijuana access points were bogus and potentially incriminating to those on the front lines of the booming medical marijuana business.
In Hiatt's opinion, the city can't regulate something that's illegal under federal law. Furthermore, Hiatt argues that requiring medical marijuana access points to obtain business licenses - and thus officially declare, on paper, they're dealing marijuana to patients -amounts to requiring dispensary owners to incriminate themselves, creating documentation that could potentially be used by the feds to bust them down the road.
Unfortunately for Hiatt, the legal showdown he was hoping for may never happen. Last week his lawsuit was dismissed in King County Superior Court after he refused to name the 13 dispensary owners that make up his list of plaintiffs - which were referred to only as only John and Jane Doe. At this point, Hiatt tells KUOW he doesn't know if he'll refile the suit.
"If you have to fill out a business license for the city that says, 'I sell marijuana,'" Hiatt told KUOW earlier this week, "well, you're kind of incriminating yourself, aren't you?"
The city, and specifically Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, doesn't see it that way.
"The City argued, and Judge Lum agreed, that the plaintiffs hadn't met their burden in this case," says Seattle City Attorney's Office spokesperson Kimberly Mills. "If plaintiffs come back in a new case, comply with the court rules and establish standing, the case can be considered on its merits. Our role in this case was to defend Seattle's laws and regulatory authority, and we cannot exempt the plaintiffs from the applicable legal standards, the court's rules or the state constitutional requirements regarding open court proceedings."
According to Mills, in the opinion of the City Attorney all Seattle is asking medical marijuana access points to do is play by the same rules and regulations as other businesses - which shouldn't be a problem.
"The City asks that the plaintiffs abide by the same laws as other businesses: obtain a business license, abide by already-existing zoning and not create a public nuisance," says Mills. "None of those three conditions are tailored to medical marijuana gardens/collectives; all three conditions were in place before."
Is Hiatt just being paranoid about the possibility of the feds cracking down? Possibly. But possibly not. After all, during the recent sentencing of former dispensary owner Brionne Corbray on federal drug-dealing charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vince Lombardi did promise that Corbray wouldn't be the last medical marijuana entrepreneur to feel the wrath of the feds.
"Mr. Corbray will be the first to come before this court, but he won't be the last," Lombardi is quoted as saying.