Mayor Ed Murray’s office outlined its plan to regulate Seattle’s proliferating medical-marijuana industry Monday, including a new city license and standards for testing, packaging and advertising.
Under the proposed system, business owners would have to get criminal-background checks. The city would inspect the businesses and be able to levy fines or suspend or revoke licenses for violations.
David Mendoza, an adviser to the mayor on marijuana issues, said selling multiple times to a minor or a person without a medical authorization would be enough to lose a license.
Murray’s plan calls for two types of collective gardens. Those with a class one license would be allowed to operate dispensaries with no limit on the number of plants allowed. They would have to be at least 500 feet from child-care centers, schools, parks, libraries, transit centers and recreation centers — half the distance required for recreational-pot businesses. They also would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of each other.
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Class one operations would have to send their products to labs for testing of potency, mold, fungus, pesticides and heavy metals — tests that reach beyond what is required in the state’s recreational system and would be much more costly for providers.
Delivery would be allowed for class one licensees if they had a storefront, but sales at farmers markets would be banned.
Class two licensees would be more limited and seem to have little commercial opportunity. Those operators would be limited to 10 members sharing 45 marijuana plants, could not operate dispensaries, and wouldn’t be subject to some of the more stringent testing and zoning regulations.
The mayor’s outline also calls for a separate processing license that establishes packaging requirements for edibles and adopts the state Liquor Control Board’s rules for concentrates.
Marijuana advocates had mixed reactions to the mayor’s proposal.
Dispensary owner and medical-marijuana advocate John Davis said the legislation was “an important step to having some regulation” and that the mayor was “headed in the right direction.”
He expressed concern that the law would prevent businesses from giving away medical marijuana to those who can’t afford it. He also worried about what would happen if two existing operations already were within 1,000 feet of each other.
Alex Cooley, a medical-pot entrepreneur, said he was “so happy the city was finally doing something,” but shared Davis’ concerns about stores already too close to one another. He also thought some of the testing standards were “overreaching” and should have included different tests.
Alison Holcomb, an ACLU lawyer who was the architect of the initiative voters approved to legalize marijuana, was critical of the mayor’s approach.
She believes creating a separate regulatory system doesn’t make sense, and said the mayor’s office reached beyond what the state’s medical-marijuana law allows.
“The spirit of the law is allowing patients to grow for themselves or have someone grow for them,” she said. “It was never intended to allow for people to distribute commercially.”
State legislation could eventually make the mayor’s proposal moot. On Friday, State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles began to promote a bill that would fold medical marijuana into the state’s recreational system.
The bill, which she plans to pre-file in December, would allow medical patients tax exemptions, condone homegrowing of six pot plants, and alter the system’s tax structure to create a single tax paid at the point of sale.
The bill would remove a cap on retail stores, reduce the buffer to 500 feet and incentivize localities to participate in the pot market by sharing revenue with them.
Jason Kelly, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, said Murray was eager to address the problem now, rather than wait for the state.
“The mayor is hopeful the Legislature will act this year, but even if they act quickly there’s still a lengthy rule-making process at the state level,” said Kelly. “The mayor wants to have a local ordinance on the books here so we can eliminate the uncertainty that exists for patients and dispensaries.”
Kohl-Welles said the mayor’s proposal highlighted the need for medical marijuana to be addressed in the upcoming session but acknowledged the legislation’s failure to address last session likely worried Seattle officials.
“There’s always the possibly nothing would be done this coming session,” said Kohl-Welles. “I’m optimistic that we can get something through, but that’s a reasonable concern any local jurisdiction would have.”
The mayor is pursuing an aggressive timeline with this legislation.
“We’re looking to transmit this to City Council sometime in December,” said Mendoza. “It’s on their calendar from that point.”
Lisa Herbold, a legislative aide for Councilmember Nick Licata, said he planned to hold a hearing on the bill next month but didn’t project the council would vote this month on the issue.
Pot entrepreneur Cooley said he would be pushing the City Council for a quick vote.
“We need to get this done now,” he said. “We need to get this done without acting like the Legislature will do anything. That’s failed us every time.”