A Changing LandscapeBy Stephanie Bishop
At the same time that Washington residents are hotly debating the pros and cons of legalization measure Initiative 502, the Seattle City Council is already moving forward with efforts to regulate its local compassionate industry.
“We need the city’s support to push forward a system of reasonable regulation,” says Northwest Patient Resource Center CEO John Davis. “A regulated market is what’s needed for safe access to medical cannabis.”
Currently, there are more than 100 medical cannabis collective gardens currently established within Seattle city limits. In a statement published on the “Medical Marijuana Ordinance” page of its website, the city clearly states its support for these businesses, expressing an intent to move forward with further regulation in a fair and safe manner for the benefit of patients in need and the community as a whole.
In 2011, the council voted 8-0 to allow the city to regulate cannabis in spite of the plant’s current status as a federal Schedule I drug and Gov. Christine Gregoire’s partial veto of SB 5073—intended as an overhaul of the state’s MMJ laws. Seattle has enjoyed millions in tax revenues generated by medical cannabis and clearly wants to allow these businesses to thrive and grow.
The Seattle City Council last month announced new proposed regulations for medical cannabis gardens after a wave of federal cease-and-desist letters were sent to several businesses.
The proposal would limit MMJ activities in single-family and multi-family residential zones along with areas such as Pioneer Square, the International District and Harborfront. The growing, processing or dispensing of cannabis in such 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.”
The proposal—which has already accumulated its share of proponents and opponents—will be open to public feedback in December. It will be considered by the city’s Housing, Human Services, Health and Culture Committee, which is chaired by Councilman Nick Licata, who is in favor of such zoning regulations.
Licata did not respond to CULTURE’s requests for comments and interviews for this story.
“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,” he said via a press release.
“By regulating the market, we take organized crime out of the market,” access point owner Davis says. “As business owners, we want to bring together a model the federal government will eventually respect.”
The Evolution of Access
At one point, the law allowed patients to establish a relationship with a provider who either grew or obtained medicine for them. Access points opened in Seattle originally under the understanding that each patient designated the business as their provider while the patient acquired medical cannabis in a private one-on-one basis. Most businesses set up commercial spaces with a large waiting room and smaller consultation rooms.
Recently these businesses have transitioned to a collective garden model designed to track the cannabis from seed to sale rather than relying solely on tracking individual patient visits. Collective gardens are patient co-ops—or private clubs—limited to 10 patients. Businesses are allowed to produce 15 plants (24 dry ounces) per patient with a copy of each patient’s qualifying paperwork and photo ID. Businesses are not permitted to distribute medicine outside of their membership base.