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Originally published December 14, 2011 at 8:00 PM | Page modified December 15, 2011 at 9:20 PM

Lawsuit filed over Seattle's medical-marijuana ordinance

Seattle's effort to bring medical-marijuana dispensaries under the wing of city ordinance was challenged as unconstitutional Wednesday on grounds it would require an admission of illegal activity.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Seattle's effort to bring medical-marijuana dispensaries under the wing of city ordinance was challenged as unconstitutional Wednesday on grounds it would require an admission of illegal activity.

A lawsuit, filed by longtime marijuana defense attorney Douglas Hiatt, accuses the city of legal hypocrisy by requiring dispensary owners to get licenses, pay taxes and abide by zoning laws while the city is also enforcing drug-nuisance laws.

The lawsuit exposes intrafamily fighting among marijuana-legalization advocates Seattle City attorney Pete Holmes, whose office championed the ordinance, and Hiatt, who views most regulation as de-facto admission that operating a marijuana dispensary is a federal crime.

"I think a lot of people are being misled" into thinking the city's ordinance protects dispensary owners, Hiatt said. "Those are all admissions of guilt in federal prosecution, and even in state prosecution."

Seattle's ordinance, passed in July, was the first municipal attempt in the state to regulate the medical-marijuana dispensaries that have blossomed — with an estimated 80 in Seattle alone — over the past several years.

Among the 16 states allowing medical marijuana, Washington has one of the most chaotic regulatory schemes because a bill in the 2010 Legislature to legalize and regulate dispensaries was mostly vetoed by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

She allowed municipalities to go their own way, resulting in patchwork local regulation, which funneled so-called "pot shops" into the most progressive cities.

"It's unfortunate that the most tolerant city in the state has been singled out for trying to do the right thing," Holmes said.

Philip Dawdy, spokesman for medical-marijuana trade group Washington Alternative Medicine Alliance, said the lawsuit undermines efforts by Holmes and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, who also is an advocate of marijuana legalization.

"Hiatt should be thanking them. Instead, he's suing," said Dawdy.

Since July, at least six municipalities have followed Seattle's lead and passed ordinances intended to treat dispensaries like other businesses.

Kurt Boehl, a Seattle attorney who represents dispensaries, said those ordinances helped to make legitimate patients' access to marijuana safer. "I don't know of anyone in the industry that has been harmed by legitimate regulation."

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @jmartin206.

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