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Medical marijuana headed for tighter oversight in state

Medical marijuana headed for tighter oversight in state

The state Senate on Tuesday gave final legislative approval to a bill that sweeps medical marijuana into the state’s strictly regulated recreational system. Now, the bill heads to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Sponsored by Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, the measure would phase out collective marijuana gardens by July 2016, create a voluntary database of medical-marijuana patients and set standards for medical pot and how its use is authorized.

It would also establish a merit system for dispensaries seeking to join the regulated industry.

Under the bill, patients in the state registry would be allowed to possess three times as much marijuana as users in the recreational system, and they could grow as many as six plants at home unless a doctor authorizes more. Patients could band together in cooperatives of up to four people to share expenses growing up to 60 plants.

Inslee spokesman David Postman said reforming how medical marijuana is regulated is important to the governor.

“We look favorably on what they’ve done,” said Postman, of the Legislature’s work.

As the gears turn in Olympia on marijuana reform, Seattle’s leaders are preparing to expand upon the Legislature’s work and customize pot laws for the city.

Unregulated medical-marijuana businesses have proliferated in Seattle since recreational pot was legalized in 2012. Some have paid no taxes, and some haven’t complied with city building codes.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray described the Legislature’s action as a “step forward.”

In November, he announced plans to create the city’s own regulatory system for pot, but he chose to put those ideas on hold to see whether the Legislature would act. Viet Shelton, a spokesman for the Mayor’s Office, said Murray will move quickly to propose additional local regulations once Inslee signs the medical-marijuana bill.

“As soon as the bill is signed by the governor, the clock’s on us as far as how we want to implement (a Seattle-specific policy),” he said.

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes said that under the bill, some medical-marijuana businesses won’t survive.

“It gives us the clarity we need to usher the 103 or so dispensaries we know of into legitimacy or into a new line of work,” Holmes said.

He indicated that could mean more city enforcement against bad actors.

Under the prospectivelaw, the state Liquor Control Board would be renamed the Liquor and Cannabis Board, and it would determine which medical-marijuana dispensaries qualify to join the state system.

Some medical-marijuana business owners are worried the new state law will shut them down.

Killy Nichelin said he dropped his medical-marijuana business in 2013 to focus on applying for a license to sell pot in the recreational market. But his company, Iconic Cannabis, wasn’t selected in the Liquor Control Board’s pot-shop lottery.

Nichelin and his partners had already leased and remodeled a building in Ballard, so they decided to open a medical dispensary under the same name.

The bill on Inslee’s desk gives priority to medical-pot businesses operating before January 2013. Nichelin isn’t sure he’ll qualify.

“There’s too many moving parts, too many variables to think you can nail it down with certainty,” said Nichelin. “Any possible thing we can do to prove we’re doing this the right way, following the rules, we’ll do it. It’s just not getting us anywhere,” he said.

More changes to the marijuana system are likely at the state level.

Last Friday, the House passed a companion bill that would restructure how marijuana is taxed, create a marijuana-research license and give cities financial incentive to not ban pot businesses.

The Senate will likely take up that measure next week.
Evan Bush: 206-464-2253 or ebush@seattletimes.com On Twitter @evanbush

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