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The Metropolitan King County Council on Monday approved a one-year moratorium on new medical-marijuana dispensaries and gardens in the unincorporated areas of the county.

In a unanimous vote, the council adopted the emergency legislation proposed by County Executive Dow Constantine.

The bill went through an expedited process and takes effect immediately. According to a council staff analyst, Constantine believed the normal process might have alerted entrepreneurs, who then could have rushed to open new facilities during the normal 10-day gap between when a bill is signed and when it takes effect.

The moratorium will not impact existing medical-marijuana facilities in unincorporated areas, except that they will not be able to expand.

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The idea behind the moratorium is to allow time for state officials to reconcile the new, highly regulated recreational-pot industry with the largely unregulated medical-marijuana system. State lawmakers are expected to tackle that task next year. The state Liquor Control Board is likely to recommend later this week that medical marijuana be sold only by new, qualified recreational stores.

The city of Seattle passed a law that might effectively ban dispensaries by requiring them to have a state license by 2015. Now there are no licenses for medical-marijuana facilities.

County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said he was concerned the city’s law might lead to new medical facilities opening just outside Seattle in unincorporated areas of the county. Moratoriums should be rare, Dembowski added, because of their implications for property rights. But he said this one was appropriate.

Bob Young: 206-464-2174 or

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