September 16, 2014 at 5:02 PM

Pot sales and taxes up from same period last month

During the first 15 days of September, Washington pulled in nearly $1 million in tax revenue from marijuana sales, according to figures provided by the state’s Liquor Control Board.

State-licensed pot businesses reported $3,833,072 in sales during the past 15 days. They will pay excise taxes totaling $958,468 to the state. That tax figure reflects sales throughout the supply chain, including those from suppliers to retailers, but does not account for sales tax or business and occupation (B&O) taxes.

Day-to-day figures have not been consistent. Here's a look at tax figures since stores opened:

The numbers show the state's marijuana system is slowly increasing sales volume. During the same period last month, pot businesses paid $632,033 in excise taxes, which is about two-thirds of this month's haul.

Since stores opened July 8, marijuana businesses have reported more than $14 million in sales and about $3.5 million in taxes due. The Liquor Control Board has licensed 57 stores and 218 pot producers.

Marijuana is taxed at 25 percent as it hits each link of the industry’s supply chain (producer, processor and retailer). Most excise taxes from pot are to be set aside for prevention, research and health funding. Here’s more information on how pot is taxed and where the money goes.

In February, the Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council estimated the state would see $586 million from pot between 2015 and 2019, though much of the money is earmarked. The $586 million figure includes revenue from sales tax as well as B&O taxes. Although stores have already opened, the council did not make revenue projections for this year.

September 15, 2014 at 6:50 PM

Dealer poaching customers at Cannabis City, Seattle's only state-licensed pot store

The Associated Press

Police say a man dealing marijuana out of the back of his Buick has been trying to poach customers from Seattle’s only licensed recreational-pot shop.

Staff at Cannabis City called officers on Saturday night after they said the man threatened to “stomp” a worker who confronted him. Employees told the officers they had seen the man several times before, giving out business cards to customers waiting in line to buy legal, taxed cannabis at the store.

The Police Department said on its online blotter Monday that the man left before officers arrived. They didn’t find him or his vehicle.

The state’s voters legalized marijuana possession by adults over 21 in 2012, but it remains illegal to sell it without a state license.

September 15, 2014 at 12:02 PM

Plaintiff in Fife case plans to appeal this week, will petition Supreme Court

The plaintiff challenging the city of Fife's ban on marijuana businesses plans to appeal a Pierce County Superior judge's ruling on the case.

Pierce County judge Ronald E. Culpepper last month upheld the city’s ban on marijuana businesses, saying the state law legalizing pot did not mandate cities to allow them.

Mark Nelson, who represents MMH, the company hoping to open a retail marijuana store in Fife, said his client will appeal later this week. Nelson will petition the Supreme Court to review the case and allow it to skip the Court of Appeals.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, whose office intervened in the case, said last month that he expects the state Supreme Court would take up the case, possibly early next year. Nelson said he hopes the court will act with urgency.

"We are hoping the Supreme Court will accept a petition for direct review and hear this in expedited fashion, but that is entirely up to them," said Nelson. "All we can do is get them our request and hope that they’ll share our opinion it’s important to resolve quickly."

September 15, 2014 at 11:33 AM

Denver Post pot website is hiring a 'sex columnist, with weed focus'

Let's talk about sex. And pot. And pot and sex together, says the Denver Post's The Cannabist blog.

The pot publication is advertising a position for a "sex columnist, with weed focus." Here's how The Cannabist editor Ricardo Baca described the gig in a post last Friday:

"Our new freelance columnist will write about sex, relationships, intimacy, gender issues and more as it all relates to a world where marijuana is becoming legal — and oftentimes present in the bedroom."

All you have to do: Write a column between 300-600 words and submit it.

If you were wondering, The Seattle Times is not seeking a sex/marijuana columnist at this time.

September 8, 2014 at 1:38 PM

State handles pot edibles with caution as they begin to trickle into stores

Edibles are slowly trickling to state-licensed store shelves. The state is handling pot-infused drinks and sweets with an extra serving of caution. Here's what Washington learned from Colorado and what products have made been approved.     

September 3, 2014 at 5:17 PM

Welfare clients pulled money from ATMs at pot stores

Two welfare clients illegally pulled a total $100 from ATMs at two Washington pot shops, which should not have ATMs that accept EBT, according to a story by Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network.

Jenkins reports an EBT cardholder withdrew money from a store in Bellingham; another withdrew money from a store in Vancouver.

According to the state's EBT handbook:

"It is against state law to use an EBT card or cash from an EBT card at taverns, bars, liquor stores, bail bond agencies, adult entertainment venues, any establishments where minors are prohibited, to gamble, get a tattoo or body piercing, or purchase tobacco."

Marijuana stores, while not explicitly spelled out by the state, are 21-and-up establishments and therefore prohibited under state law.  A 2011 state law requires businesses to restrict ATM machines.

"Any of the listed business establishments that do not comply with the requirement to disable ATM and point-of-sale machines on their business premises from accepting EBT cards will have its business license suspended until it complies with the requirements."

Jenkins reports the Department of Social and Health services saw the transactions, flagged them and sent warning letters to both the businesses and welfare clients in violation of state law.

September 2, 2014 at 3:34 PM

Seattle City Council unanimously approves medical marijuana extension

The Seattle City Council unanimously approved an extension Tuesday for medical pot businesses that would allow them to continue to operate after Jan. 1, 2015, the current deadline for businesses to obtain a state-issued license and comply with Seattle code.

All nine council members approved the bill, which pushes the deadline for compliance to either July 1, 2015 or Jan. 1, 2016, depending on the state Legislature's actions on medical marijuana this legislative session.

Last October, the council voted to allow medical marijuana businesses opened before Nov. 16, 2013 to continue until the end of this year with the expectation the state would address medical marijuana laws.

But last session, the state Legislature failed to reconcile medical marijuana businesses with its new legal system. This left medical marijuana businesses unlicensed and largely unregulated. With just one state-licensed recreational store open in Seattle and little supply on the market, their products continue to be in high demand for patients with authorization cards.

The medical marijuana community championed the council's action during public comment before the vote, but one pot entrepreneur pushed the council for more time.

"I do not feel six months is appropriate amount of time," said Alex Cooley of Solstice. "There is no real-world situation in which state would be able to pass and create a license system in six months time."

Councilmember Nick Licata, who introduced the bill, acknowledged that six months might not be enough time for the state  to decide medical pot's fate. He also said Seattle must address medical businesses that began operating after November 2013, and are not allowed under city ordinance.

Councilmember Sally Clark said she thought the extension was "the right path for now" but indicated that medical pot businesses would have to fold into the state-licensed system down the road.

"At some point, many of those doors are going to have to close. That’s a reality. If we want (Initiative) 502 to exist and be successful, we need medical to be recognized and in the system," said Clark.

She likened regulating pot under legalization to building an airplane while flying. Council President Tim Burgess seized on the analogy.

"Sometimes when you’re building the airplane while they’re flying -- they crash," he said. Burgess then reiterated the importance of bringing medical marijuana under the state's regulatory system.

"You can’t have three systems: regulated, licensed, taxed; a medical system in the gray zone; and a black market," he said. "It’s not in our interest for that to happen."

Burgess also seconded Licata's urgency to deal with medical businesses that opened after the city allowed.

"Medical dispensaries that started after Nov. 2013 -- they are really operating at their own peril," he said. "Not only are they violating land use code, but they’re opening themselves up to criminal investigation."

August 29, 2014 at 3:05 PM

Judge upholds city of Fife's ban on pot businesses

A Pierce County judge Friday upheld the city of Fife’s ban on marijuana businesses, saying the state law legalizing pot did not mandate cities to allow them.

Prospective marijuana retailer MMH was suing the city and hoped the judge would compel Fife to issue it a business license. Tedd Wetherbee, who owns MMH, said he plans to appeal the judge’s ruling.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he expects the case will wind up in the hands of the state Supreme Court, possibly early next year.

“It’s precisely the issue the state Supreme Court is likely to provide guidance on to the state,” said Ferguson.

There were two key issues in the case: whether Fife and other municipalities are allowed to ban marijuana businesses under Initiative 502, and whether federal marijuana laws on pot trump the state’s.

MMH’s lawyer, Mark Nelson, argued that Initiative 502 set up a tightly regulated system controlled by the state Liquor Control Board. Because the board allotted stores across the state and licensed them, Nelson said, his client had the right to open up a shop and Fife shouldn’t be able to stop him.

He also argued that disallowing MMH to operate violated voters’ will. Fifty-three percent of Fife voters approved I-502 in November 2012, he said.

“I-502 represents the will of people of Washington state,” said Nelson during the hearing in Pierce County Superior Court. “It represents the will of Pierce County and will of the city of Fife.”

Judge Ronald Culpepper disagreed in what he represented as a “quick and dirty” ruling from the bench.

“It could be consistent for people to generally think of legalization of marijuana as a good thing, but not in their backyard,” Culpepper said. “I don’t think that’s an irreconcilable conflict.”

Because Culpepper decided Fife was allowed to ban pot businesses within the bounds of I-502, he didn’t have to reach the second issue Fife raised — federal preemption. He did take a moment to comment on the issue though.

“There is not federal preemption here,” he said.

The judge said the state has the authority to legislate marijuana policy and that Washington’s approach wasn’t at odds with the Controlled Substances Act. If the federal government wanted to crack down on marijuana, he said, it still could.

During the hearing, Culpepper also balked at Fife’s argument that city officials could be prosecuted by federal authorities for approving pot businesses, saying it seemed “far-fetched.”

The state Attorney General’s Office, which intervened in the case and believed the bans were legal, disagreed with Fife on the issue of federal preemption and said it could “eviscerate” the law legalizing marijuana.

After the hearing, Ferguson said the judge’s ruling put the initiative on stronger legal ground because federal preemption was a nonstarter for the judge.

“We’ll go anywhere, any time to defend I-502” from federal preemption, said Noah Purcell, the state Solicitor General, who argued the office’s position.

It’s not clear yet if the ruling will have widespread effects. The Legislature meets in January and could address pot bans. A higher court could overturn the judge’s decision.

Alison Holcomb, the ACLU lawyer who crafted the initiative, said she believed the judge’s ruling was “specific to the case.”

“I don’t think Judge Culpepper’s decisions necessarily applies to other jurisdictions or Pierce County where legislation is pending right now,” she said.

I-502 requires Washington residents have “adequate access“ to pot products “to discourage purchases from the illegal market.”

Representing the ACLU, attorney Salvador Mungia argued that if municipalities adopted widespread bans, it would undercut the system and prevent the state from its goal of eradicating the black market.

The judge seemed sympathetic to the argument, and suggested a ban in Pierce County might not be analogous to one in tiny Fife, a town of about 9,000 people where residents can access nearby pot shops.

Holcomb said she hopes the state Legislature can address bans this session. “My hope is that we’ll have a political solution in 2015,” she said. Holcomb said the Legislature should consider incentivizing municipalities to participate in the I-502 system by changing the law’s tax structure.

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