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Medical Marijuana Dispensary Closures Begin in Washington

Medical Marijuana Dispensary Closures Begin in Washington

In an effort to enforce recent changes to the legal regulation of medical marijuana dispensaries in Washington, the state is following through with closures. Of the more than 100 medical marijuana outlets in Seattle, approximately half will be affected.

Senate Bill 5052, passed earlier this year, mandates that any medical marijuana outlet that opened after January 2013 must close doors of operation by the time the law goes into effect in July of 2016. The law further states that medical marijuana shops that are allowed to remain open must receive a new license from the sate to operate legally.

So far eight businesses have been issued citations, and of those, three have already signaled they will fight the city’s actions in court. Despite pushback from medical marijuana shop owners, the state is determined to follow through with the closures.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes admits the current state of cannabis laws are disordered, saying,

“We are essentially building the airplane as we fly.”

But he also vowed that when the law goes into effect in July of 2016, the city plans to rigorously enforce it. Holmes stated,

“As soon as we have a hammer. We will use it.”

For now, the city will rely on citations issued to shops for zoning violations.

pete holmesSeattle City Attorney, Pete Holmes

The impetus for the crackdown on medical marijuana shops seems to be a mixture of dissatisfaction among neighboring businesses, who say that the lightly regulated medical shops are bad neighbors and have led to increased crime, and complaints from marijuana retailers, who say they operate at a competitive disadvantage to medical dispensaries, which are exempt from the regulatory and tax burdens that retail shops carry.

The law not only addresses the suppliers of medical marijuana but will also change rules for recipients. Patients will have the option to submit their names to a state database, and in return they will be allowed to possess three times the amount of cannabis that retail customers and non-registered qualifying patients are allowed. Registered patients would continue to be exempt from sales tax. However, in an apparent attempt to make medical shops less attractive to cannabis purchasers in general, retail customers and patients alike would be required to pay a 30-percent excise tax on their purchases.

The new law seems to be an effort by the state to increase control over cannabis by limiting the number of legitimate medical marijuana users and suppliers, which should funnel more cannabis purchases to the better regulated retail market. In the words of City Attorney Holmes, “Voters didn’t simply legalize marijuana, we voted to regulate it.”

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