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January 22, 2015 at 9:43 AM

State Senators propose creating a single marijuana tax to replace tier system

Worried about high state excise taxes and the effect of 280E, the marijuana industry has been harping for an overhaul of the tax system. The Legislature might abide, it seems.

January 5, 2015 at 10:39 AM

City Attorney Pete Holmes: 'Clearly commercial' medical pot shops not legal

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes pushed the Legislature to fold medical marijuana into the state’s recreational system in a wide-ranging policy memo Monday.

He also urged the City of Seattle to aggressively enforce against medical-marijuana businesses not following state law or city regulations. Some businesses aren't operating with proper permits. Others have not paid local business and occupation taxes. Some opened after the city council passed an intended moratorium on new medical-marijuana businesses.

Holmes said he published the memo to clarify any confusion about medical-marijuana laws.

“If you’re a commercial (medical-marijuana) operation lacking a 502 license (Initiative 502), it’s a felony operation. Period,” said Holmes.

Holmes said he hopes his memo reframes the debate about medical marijuana. He said recent court decisions have made it clear that medical marijuana providers have a “limited affirmative defense” in court, but that’s it.

“I have talked to some medical producers who are clearly commercial,” said Holmes. “They say, ‘Are you going to make it illegal?’ This memo is clear: You’re already illegal.”

He said the “debate should no longer be about if, but when” medical-marijuana businesses cease operating or join the Initiative 502 system.

In the memo, Holmes endorsed State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles' proposal to fold medical marijuana into the state’s highly-regulated recreational system. He also pushed for “marijuana lounges” that would allow users to vaporize or consume edibles on site. State law does not allow consumption of pot at marijuana stores, so those at pot lounges would need to bring their own weed.

Mayor Ed Murray announced plans last month to propose new regulations for medical marijuana, including a licensing system.

Holmes said he would prefer the Legislature address medical marijuana itself and that a license would stand on legally “iffy” ground.

He wrote in the memo: “Licensing commercial marijuana activity outside the I-502 system ... would send a message that the City endorses a parallel but different system for such activity, perhaps conflicting with state law and undercutting arguments for legislation at the state level.”

In a news release, Mayor Ed Murray said the Legislature ought to find a statewide solution for medical marijuana, but said the recreational system did not meet patients' needs.

“Shutting down all collective gardens is not the right solution because it leaves our patients out in the cold," said Murray the news release. "I continue to develop a localized solution to this challenge that would allow some collective gardens to continue to serve patients until the Legislature addresses the existing gap. I intend to forward a draft ordinance to the city council in the coming weeks that will protect patient access to safe medical-grade marijuana."

Holmes said he didn't see himself at odds with the mayor on marijuana because they both believe the Legislature needs to act.

"We’re having good, healthy debates ... I think that it’s good to look at our options," said Holmes. “What the mayor has proposed is something we’ll really need if the Legislature punts again.”

Although his memo encouraged more enforcement actions against marijuana businesses, Holmes’ office primarily handles civil enforcement against these operations. Felony criminal charges  are handled by King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg. Holmes said he was pleased Satterberg filed charges against Matthew Segal and several employees, who were operating several medical-marijuana businesses including Rain City Medical. The Seattle Police raided Segal’s multimillion-dollar operation in June last year. Satterberg’s office charged Segal in December.

“I commend Satterberg for filing criminal charges against Rain City,” said Holmes. “My office advised SPD they could raid the establishment and seize the plants.”

Holmes acknowledged he was limited in his ability to carry out his vision for pot policy, but hoped the 20-page memo would persuade legislators to take action on medical marijuana.

“I don’t have the legislative power in the city or state,” he said. “All I can do is offer my good-faith opinion.”

Holmes said he plans to be active in Olympia sharing his vision.

December 31, 2014 at 8:48 AM

Legal pot by the numbers: 99 stores licensed, $64 million in sales

After a rocky start and supply troubles, the recreational marijuana industry is slowly gaining ground in Washington state. With the new year upon us, here are some numbers that help put things in context.

8

In Seattle, just eight retail marijuana stores have been licensed by the Liquor Control Board; seven are open.

The LCB allotted Seattle 21 stores. It plans to license as many as 334 stores statewide. Cannabis City, which opened July 8, was the first to operate in Seattle.

Unprepared applicants, difficulties finding legal space in a dense city as well as complicated zoning rules have slowed Seattle pot shops.

99

Statewide, at least 99 stores have been licensed in 27 of Washington's 39 counties, though that doesn't mean they are operating.

King County leads the state with a total of 14 licensed stores. Although Pierce County has banned marijuana, nine stores are located within cities that allow pot within the county. Snohomish County has 7 licensed pot shops.

In Eastern Washington, Spokane County leads the way with 11 stores licensed.

322

The state has licensed more than 320 marijuana growers. About 54 percent of Washington growers are located in Eastern Washington. Spokane County hosts the most growers with 66. Snohomish County has the second-most growers, with 28.

$64 million

Since July, nearly $64 million of pot has been sold in Washington state, according to Liquor Control Board figures. The figures include sales throughout the supply chain (such as sales from growers to retailers). The state reaped nearly $16 million from excise taxes on marijuana sales.

$2.75 million

Vancouver's New Vansterdam sold almost $2.75 million worth of marijuana products since it opened in July, the most of any retail marijuana business.

Rounding out the top 5 retailers:

  • New Vansterdam: $2,748,875
  • Herbal Nation: $2,600,469
  • Cannabis City: $2,469,905
  • Main Street Marijuana: $1,584,512
  • Spokane Green Leaf: $1,452,252

Note: These numbers likely do not reflect all December sales, because reporting is not required until the following month.

$1.5 million

BMF Washington pulled in about $1.5 million in sales, the most of any producer or processor.

Rounding out the top 5 producer/ processors:

  • BMF Washington: $1,526,663
  • Farmer J's: $1,249,227
  • Monkey Grass Farms: $792,397
  • Green Chiefs: $741,225
  • Cannasol Farms Incorporated: $687,562

Note: These numbers likely do not reflect all December sales, because reporting is not required until the following month.

$1 million

Weedsgiving? The day before Turkey Day (Nov. 26) was the biggest single sales day for marijuana. Growers, retailers and processors combined to sell more than $1 million of weed.

10 percent

About 10 percent of marijuana fails one of the state's tests for bacteria and other contaminants.

16 percent

Pot sold in Washington averages about 16 percent THC.

December 12, 2014 at 10:46 AM

Retiring LCB chairwoman enjoying her marijuana brownies after knee surgery

We asked Sharon Foster if retiring as chairwoman of the Liquor Control Board offered her new opportunities. She recently had knee-replacement surgery.

"For marijuana use?" she replied. "My physical therapist said to me the other day, ‘Sharon, have you been using any of that alternate product?’ And I looked at her and said, ‘You know — I hadn’t thought about that.’ And I said, ‘Maybe I should be, for my knee …’ ”

Foster wasn't kidding.

She told the Tacoma News-Tribune she's been enjoying marijuana brownies as dessert lately.

"By the time I went to bed, which was maybe an hour and a half or two hours after I ate this brownie — piece of brownie — I didn't feel anything," Foster told the News-Tribune.

"So all I know is, I was relaxed enough to go to sleep. So if I was high, I don't know it."

December 10, 2014 at 7:56 PM

Mayor Ed Murray's office plans crackdown on marijuana-delivery businesses

The city of Seattle plans to shut down marijuana delivery services, which became popular after the state legalized recreational marijuana.

David Mendoza, a policy adviser to the mayor, said in a city council briefing Wednesday that the mayor’s office will work with Seattle police on operations against these businesses. Delivery services — which are illegal — will get a single chance to stop operating, Mendoza told the council.

“One strike and we seize your product and tell you to close,” said Mendoza.

After a second strike, SPD will make arrests, he said.

Jason Kelly, a spokesman for Mayor Ed Murray, said the administration believes shutting down delivery services will help “ensure minors don’t have access to marijuana and to ensure medical marijuana operations are serving patients that have appropriate medical authorizations.”

Mendoza said in the briefing that between seven and 10 delivery businesses advertise in The Stranger each week. In the most recent issue, some businesses advertised with phrases like “NO CARD REQUIRED,” “Tourists Welcome” and “Out of State Visitors Welcomed.”

“They’re continuing to grow,” Mendoza told council members. “There is no provision for them. We feel we should close them down.”

John Schochet, the deputy chief of staff at the City Attorney’s Office, said the police department has the authority for this kind of operation.

“The activity of selling marijuana to someone else without a (Initiative) 502 license or some kind of collective garden or designated provider status is illegal and SPD can enforce that,” said Schochet. He said those delivering medical marijuana could still be arrested and charged, though they might have a stronger potential defense because of that law’s gray areas.

Schochet said charges of felony distribution would be handled by the King County Prosecutor’s Office.

Dan Donohoe, a spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, said they hadn’t received any cases against marijuana delivery services.

Oscar Velasco-Schmitz said he was pleased the mayor’s office was taking action against delivery operations. Velasco-Schmitz owns a Seattle-area recreational store and sits on the board of a medical dispensary. He said delivery undercuts both types of business.

”They don’t have the overhead of a storefront,” said Velasco-Schmitz. “They don’t have a staff. I'm assuming there’s no taxation of these businesses. There’s no oversight,” he said.

A representative who answered the phone Wednesday evening at House of Dank Delivery said he would stop advertising his business, but wouldn’t stop delivery. He declined to give his name because of the impending city crackdown.

“No I wouldn’t stop my business,” he said. “I have a pretty regular clientele. I probably only pick up 10 to 12 new customers a week,” he said.

He said House of Dank Delivery requires its customers to be older than 21. He said he thought the move would backfire on the city.

“Pioneer Square is going to be filled with a bunch of dime bags,” he said.

At the briefing, Mendoza also told the council that the mayor’s office plans to identify and shut down medical-marijuana businesses that are still operating without business licenses.

Mendoza said the mayor’s office still plans to propose legislation to overhaul how Seattle regulates medical marijuana in January that creates standards for testing, packaging and advertising. It would allow the city to inspect businesses, levy fines and shut businesses down that don’t comply.

December 10, 2014 at 2:54 PM

City Council committee hearing on medical-marijuana regulation

The Seattle City Council is holding a Finance and Culture Committee hearing today and will be discussing medical-marijuana regulations. Watch here. The medical pot section of the hearing should kick off around 3:25 p.m.

David Mendoza, who advises Mayor Ed Murray on marijuana issues, will be presenting to council members. Here's the document that corresponds with Mendoza's presentation.

December 10, 2014 at 5:59 AM

Prosser pot grower finally finds charities to take $14K donation

The Associated Press

PROSSER, Wash. — A marijuana grower who had trouble giving away $14,000 has finally someone to accept the donations.

Fireweed Farms owner Randy Williams made $600,000 last month in the first recreational pot auction in Washington and wanted to share some of the proceeds.

The Prosser School District said no thanks; it would send the wrong message. The Prosser branch of the Boys and Girls Club also just said no to drug money, saying it would distract from its mission.

Williams told the Yakima Herald-Republic that he finally gave $1,000 to the Prosser VFW post and $13,000 to a local needy family, which asked not to be identified.

Williams said Monday that his phone had been ringing off the hook with people who wanted the money.

December 5, 2014 at 10:11 AM

Judge: Uncle Ike's pot store can stay open until 2015 suit is heard

A  judge ruled Friday that Uncle Ike's Pot Shop can continue operation until the court hears a full lawsuit next November.

"An injunction is an extraordinary remedy … and the burden is on the plaintiff," said King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel at the hearing. "I will not grant it."

Mount Calvary Christian Center is suing the recreational marijuana store because it claims the store is too close to the church's teen center. Marijuana stores are required to be more than 1,000 feet from parks, recreation centers, schools and other prohibited venues where kids are thought to hang out, but are not required to be any distance from churches.

Much of the testimony concerned how often the teen center was used. As defined by state law, a recreation center hosts a "broad range of activities."

In her ruling, Judge Reitschel noted that the activities offered by the church were closely associated with the church itself.

"At present, the teen center is opened primarily on Sundays for Kidz for Christ ministry and on Wednesday nights for youth Bible study and two Fridays a month," said the judge. "Those activities by their types and hours ... do not meet the burden of a broad range of activities."

Judge Reitschel also said the church had not proven harm to children because the pot shop was allowed to be open. "There’s no showing of a failure of security at Ike’s … no showing of any sales or attempted sales to minors. I don’t see any actual showing of injury," she said.

Ian Eisenberg, who owns Uncle Ike's, said he was pleased to be able to conduct "business as usual" and planned to have "a nice sativa with lunch."

"We'll prove we're good neighbors and do everything we can to help the church," Eisenberg said. "We've always wanted dialogue with the church."

Reverend Reggie Witherspoon of Mt. Calvary Christian Center said the ruling was disheartening but that the church's fight would continue. "It's not over. We're not going away," he said.

Witherspoon said the church would go over its options and chart a new legal strategy. Would he consider dialogue with Uncle Ike's?

"Anything is possible," said Witherspoon. "At this point, I'm feeling emotional and disheartened."

Witherspoon said that if the two sides were to talk, he would consider pushing to make sure Uncle Ike's wasn't open on Sundays.

Uncle Ike's had argued that if the store were shut down, it would lose “approximately $20,000 dollars in sales per day, and in an emerging market where market share is crucial.”

A judge denied a temporary restraining order against Uncle Ike’s on October 31. The church sought to prevent the pot store from operating ahead of a harvest festival it was holding.

In October, Eisenberg said he “did everything by the book” in establishing his store.

In November, Uncle Ike's pulled in $569,615 in revenue, according to figures provided by the Liquor Control Board.

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