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Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes Said That Medical Marijuana Businesses are Not Legal

Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes supports folding medical marijuana into the Initiative 502 system. He also said that commercial medical-marijuana businesses are not legal.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes Said That Medical Marijuana Businesses are Not Legal

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

He also pushed the city of Seattle to crack down on 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,” Holmes said. “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.

The mayor Monday said he intends to send the City Council a draft ordinance that will protect patient access to safe, medical-grade marijuana.

“Shutting down all collective gardens is not the right solution because it leaves our patients out in the cold,” he said in a statement.

Holmes said he would prefer the Legislature address medical marijuana and that a city license would stand on questionable legal 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.”

He said that doesn’t mean his vision conflicts with the mayor’s.

“There’s so many moving pieces,” said Holmes. “What the mayor has proposed is something we’ll really need if the Legislature punts again.”

Although Holmes’ memo encouraged more legal action against marijuana businesses, his office primarily handles civil enforcement against them.

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.

Seattle police raided Segal’s multimillion-dollar operation in last June. 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.

Evan Bush: 206-464-2253 or[email protected] On Twitter @evanbush

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