October 23, 2014 at 7:13 PM
SEATTLE (AP) — The city of Seattle is warning more than 300 medical marijuana businesses that their days could be numbered.
Officials have sent letters to medical marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries reminding them they need to either shut down or be licensed by the state by next summer.
The problem is that the Legislature hasn’t yet created a licensing system to allow sales of medical marijuana.
How to regulate pot for medical use is expected to be a hot topic when lawmakers go back into session in January. Officials fear the unregulated cannabis is competing with Washington’s new, highly taxed recreational market.
Some lawmakers, including Rep. Chris Hurst, an Enumclaw Democrat who heads the House committee that oversees the marijuana industry, have urged the city to crack down on its proliferation of medical pot shops, and the U.S. attorney’s offices in Seattle and Spokane have long said the state’s unregulated medical pot system isn’t tenable.
The Seattle City Council voted last year to give medical marijuana businesses that opened before Nov. 16, 2013, time to obtain state licenses, anticipating that the Legislature would adopt such a licensing scheme. But it also said medical pot dispensaries opening after that date would not be tolerated.
Nevertheless, dozens have opened in the city since then, city records show. In their letters this month, two city departments — Planning and Development, and Finance and Administrative Services — warned: “If you began operating after November 16, 2013 and do not have a state issued license, you are in violation of city law and can be subject to enforcement action.”
The letters worried medical marijuana advocates who say they fear patients will have a harder time finding cannabis.
“We’re urging the Legislature to adopt a legal framework that can allow the two programs — adult use and medical — to exist side-by-side,” said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. “In the meantime, the city of Seattle should back off its stringent stance on requiring medical marijuana businesses to obtain a license that doesn’t yet exist.”
October 23, 2014 at 5:59 PM
Churchgoers have been protesting outside Uncle Ike's Pot Shop in the Central District for nearly a month. Now, Mount Calvary Christian Center is taking its protest to court.
The church and a community group filed suit Thursday against the owner of Uncle Ike's Pot Shop, the city of Seattle and the Liquor Control Board in King County Superior Court.
The suit alleges that Uncle Ike's was allowed to open despite being about 250 feet from a teen recreation center. It says the city and state did not perform due diligence in allowing Uncle Ike's to open.
The church and community center ask the court to revoke Uncle Ike's license and direct the city of Seattle to set up measures that would require it to let communities weigh in before potential marijuana stores are approved.
Pastor Reginald Witherspoon said the defendants have not taken the community's concerns seriously.
"We’re at the end of the rope," said Pastor Reggie Witherspoon. "I have had several conversations with the Liquor Control Board. I’ve met in Mayor’s Office personally. I’ve talked to the owenr of Uncle Ike's. We've filed a complaint about the city land use. We’re getting the run around."
Uncle Ike's owner Ian Eisenberg said he thought the suit was a "publicity stunt." He said he told the church of his plans to open a recreational marijuana store and has a "clear conscience" about his dealings with the church.
"I followed the laws. I followed the city and state guidelines. I didn't have any problems with the Department of Planning and Development. We did everything by the book," he said.
Eisenberg said he's frustrated with the community arguments that, "I-502 (the initiative that legalized marijuana) is bad and my shop is bad because it puts corner drug dealers out of work and it’s gentrifying. It makes we want to barf. The whole point is to turn out drug dealers. They sell to kids, we won’t."
He said protests weren't slowing business. "Our signage isn't up," Eisenberg said. "It's letting people know where we are. It's a symbiotic relationship. It helps our business. It helps their business. Everybody needs a cause."
The state's Liquor Control Board rules disallow stores "within 1000 feet of any elementary or secondary school, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center, public park, public transit center, library, or game arcade that allows minors to enter," according to an FAQ on its website. The church believes its teen center qualifies as a recreation center.
Eisenberg said that the teen center is rarely used. "I’ve been here for 4 or 5 year and I walk by it 10 times a day ... I've seen kids play basketball there four or five times."
October 21, 2014 at 11:31 AM
Love books? Love pot?
On Thursday, Lit Crawl Seattle is hosting a "Weed All About It" reading featuring authors Roger Roffman and Bruce Barcott. Dominic Holden, who was associate editor of The Stranger until recently, will host the event.
Barcott and Roffman's reading is one of 21 taking place on Capitol Hill and First Hill as part of Lit Crawl Seattle.
Roffman is a UW emeritus professor who has been studying pot for decades. His book, "Marijuana Nation," is a frank and even-keeled dissection of what he's learned during his years of study.
Barcott is a journalist and author who lives on Bainbridge Island. His book, "Weed the People," will be released next year.
October 20, 2014 at 11:45 AM
By Kristen Wyatt / AP with material from The Seattle Times
Colorado health officials want to ban many edible forms of marijuana, including brownies, cookies and most candies.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has recommended that retail marijuana edibles be limited to lozenges and tinctures.
The recommendation has been obtained by The Associated Press in advance of a third and possibly final workgroup meeting Monday to draw up rules for identifiable markers or colors for edible marijuana products so they won't be confused with regular foods.
The health department's recommendation would effectively take most forms of edible marijuana off store shelves. The final decision will be made by the Department of Revenue, which oversees retail marijuana sales.
Lawmakers have ordered regulators to require pot-infused food and drink to have a distinct look when they are out of the packaging.
The Washington Liquor Control Board said last month that it learned from Colorado's early missteps with edibles in modeling its rules. Officials and industry advocates in both states said they were concerned about inexperienced pot users having too much, too fast.
In Colorado, researchers estimated that tourists account for about 44 percent of recreational marijuana sales in metro areas, and about 90 percent in heavily visited mountain communities.
Earlier this year, novice pot users having bad, or even tragic, experiences with Colorado edibles made headlines nationwide.
In June, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wrote about her experience with edibles, and the story went viral. Three months earlier, a 19-year-old Wyoming student had jumped from a balcony and died after eating more than six times the recommended serving of marijuana cookies.
October 17, 2014 at 2:55 PM
A Chelan County judge ruled cities and counties can ban pot businesses, according to a news release from the State Attorney General's office, which intervened in the case. The ruling agrees with that of a Pierce County judge about a similar case regarding the city of Fife.
In Fife, a prospective marijuana retailer was suing the city and hoped the judge would compel Fife to issue a business license. The retailer lost and has appealed the case to the state Supreme Court. The Supreme Court could take up the case as early next year.
Both judges hewed closely to the state Attorney General's opinion that localities could ban marijuana businesses. Neither judge directly addressed whether federal law trumps that of the state in regulating marijuana.
Proponents of Initiative 502 argue that allowing local governments to ban marijuana businesses guts the initiative and will allow the black market to thrive in areas of the state where pot businesses are not allowed to operate. The Legislature could take up the issue.
"Now it is up to the Legislature to decide whether to require local governments to allow for the sale of marijuana,” said Ferguson in a news release.
October 16, 2014 at 11:20 AM
By Gene Johnson
SEATTLE (AP) — Banking remains a thorny issue for legal marijuana businesses, but regulators in Washington state are trying to make it easier for financial institutions to track their pot-related customers.
In the last few days, the state's Liquor Control Board has started posting the sales activity of licensed marijuana growers, sellers and processers online — along with any warnings or fines issued to businesses caught out of compliance. The data show that two of state's top-selling pot shops are in the southwest Washington city of Vancouver, just across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon.
The idea behind posting the information online is to make it easy for banks or credit unions to discover red flags that might indicate illegal activity, officials said. Early this year, the U.S. Justice and Treasury departments gave banks permission to do business with legal marijuana entities with conditions, including trying to make sure the customers are complying with regulations.
"The more information that's out there, it helps them know their customers and gives them an opportunity to identify behavior that's not what they thought it would be," Scott Jarvis, director of the state Department of Financial Institutions. "If somebody reports that they're selling $10,000 a month, and all of a sudden the bank sees them depositing $40,000 a month, there's room for inquiry there."
Colorado, the only other state with legal marijuana sales, does not make such data available online.
Denny Eliason, a lobbyist for the state banking industry, said it can only help to have the information easily accessible because "the federal guidance requires financial institutions to know their customers at an unprecedented level." While some credit unions in the state are already opening accounts for pot businesses, he said it's too soon to say whether the online access will encourage more to take marijuana money.
"The sense I get from the financial industry is still one of caution," he said. "There's so much risk."
Under the guidance, banks must review state license applications for marijuana customers, request information about the business, develop an understanding of the types of products to be sold and monitor publicly available sources for any negative information about the business.
The banks need to file "suspicious activity reports" on their pot customers — designated either "marijuana limited," for those believed to be complying with the federal government's law-enforcement priorities, such as keeping pot away from children; "marijuana priority," for those the banks have questions about; or "marijuana termination," for those believed to be engaging in criminal activity.
The sales data show that since sales began in July, one of the state's top-selling pot shops has been New Vansterdam in Vancouver, which has reported nearly $1.7 million in sales. Another Vancouver shop, Main Street Marijuana, has sold about $1.1 million worth. By contrast, Seattle's first licensed pot store, Cannabis City, which like many of the stores has been beset by supply problems, reported $1.3 million in sales.
Sales are allowed to out-of-state residents. But among the federal government's concerns in allowing states to move forward with legalizing marijuana is to prevent diversion to other states. Oregon is set to vote this fall on whether to legalize marijuana.
The enforcement data posted online so far concerns activity from last month only, but it reveals that the state has already issued fines to businesses. One licensed marijuana grower, Botany Unlimited Design and Supply in Pasco, was fined twice: $2,500 on Sept. 16 for having unauthorized product or unapproved storage, and $1,000 on Sept. 25 for failing to maintain a required security alarm or surveillance system.
Liquor board spokesman Brian Smith said Botany Unlimited is scheduled for an informal hearing about the fines next month. The company declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press.
Another licensed grower, Green Chiefs of Granite Falls, was fined $5,000 for failing to use or maintain systems designed to track its marijuana. Green Chiefs hasn't informed the board about whether it wants to seek a hearing over the matter, Smith said. The company did not return phone messages from The Associated Press.
Two other companies were issued fines that were not reflected in the September data, Smith said. After hearings, Green Apple, a licensed grower in Silverdale, was fined $1,600, and BMF Washington, a grower in Raymond, was fined $3,000. The reasons for those fines were not immediately clear.
About three dozen other businesses have been issued warnings, mostly for failing to file sales reports with the board. Many didn't realize that they were required to file the reports even if they did not sell any marijuana, Smith said.
"Really what we've found is the industry has been very careful," he said. "They want to do everything they can not to jeopardize their license."
October 14, 2014 at 1:08 PM
Meet Jamie Hoffman, a Chicago entrepreneur who moved across the country and cashed in savings accounts to found Craft Elixirs, a company that makes pot-infused syrups that you could put on toast or in a salad.
October 9, 2014 at 4:19 PM
Seattle's first edibles processor, Db3, will launch its Zoots products Friday. "It’s a huge milestone," said Patrick Devlin, who owns the company with his brothers. Two Seattle stores, Cannabis City and Uncle Ike's Pot Shop, will carry the Zoots brand. Herbal Nation in Bothell and Bellevue's Green Theory also will have the product tomorrow.
Devlin said three products will be offered in stores tomorrow: hard candies called ZootRocks, two varieties of drink additives designed for relaxation or energy called ZootDrops, and single-serving shots called ZootBlast.
Patrick Devlin and his brothers, Michael and Dan, started Db3 after furtive discussions around their family’s Thanksgiving table in 2012. The company was the state’s first licensed processor to have products approved. The company produces its products in a 25,000-square-foot space in Sodo.