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Tacoma: Mayor proposes compromise to allow legitimate pot dispensaries to continue operating

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Oct. 19, 2010 at 5:05 pm with 19 Comments »
October 20, 2010 9:43 am

Seeking to nip a potential controversy over medical marijuana in the bud, the Tacoma City Council on Tuesday agreed to a compromise plan: It would allow established medicinal pot dispensaries to continue selling to patients until state lawmakers provide clarity to Washington’s medical marijuana law.

“The Tacoma City Council is not opposed to safe and legal access to medical marijuana for patients with legitimate need,” Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland said Tuesday.

Under Strickland’s proposal for stemming a controversy ignited when the city’s tax and licenses manager issued cease and desist letters to eight medical marijuana dispensaries, the city will agree to suspend taking any action so long as each of the dispensaries file appeals to the letters.

The city would suspend setting hearings on those appeals until the end of the 2011 state legislative session, during which state lawmakers are expected to clarify portions of the medical marijuana law enacted in 1999 after citizens passed a ballot measure.

“The way the current law is written is confusing,” said Strickland, who noted that the council recently adopted language in the city’s legislative policy manual that encourages the state to clarify the law.

Strickland detailed the plan to fellow council members less than two hours before pot activists and medicinal marijuana patients were set to converge on City Hall to protest the threatened shutdown of dispensaries in the city.

But whether state lawmakers actually can accomplish such clarity is another issue.

Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, D-Seattle, who has sponsored bills to clarify the medical marijuana initiative every year since it was passed — and will again next session — said perennial obstacles exist to stymie such efforts.

“A lot of legislators are worried about voting on anything involving marijuana,” she said. “There’s not a cohesive community of activists.”

A spokesman for a group seeking to legalize pot in Washington, which planned to stage a protest rally at City Hall Tuesday, called the council’s late-breaking comprise “mildly encouraging.”

“We’re just starting to hear details about (the plan) now,” Philip Dawdy, spokesman for Sensible Washington, supporters of a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, said about an hour before the rally was set to begin. “It’s mildly encouraging – but the city should just drop the whole thing.”

Even with the city’s commitment to suspend closing down dispensaries, Dawdy said, “there’s still latitude there for law enforcement abuses.”

“The law is big enough for that (wiggle room) and clearly, there are people on TPD that are enforcing it pretty damn tight,” he added.

Among other things, Strickland and council members noted that Tacoma Police still would continue to take actions against dispensaries if illegal pot sales beyond those for legitimate medical use occur.

The city also would seek to impose a moratorium on business licenses for applicants seeking to establish new dispensaries until after state lawmakers clarify the issue.

Strickland said she met with Tacoma Police Chief Don Ramsdell and others to discuss the compromise, after medical marijuana and pot legalization proponents from across the state announced Monday they would converge on Tacoma City Hall Tuesday night to protest eight cease and desist letters sent to local medical pot dispensaries.

Sent by city Tax and Licenses Manager Jodie Trueblood, the letters – dated October 14 – came with the subject line: “Notice to Cease Dispensing Marijuana.” The notices specifically cited part of the state’s medical marijuana law, noting that designated providers are allowed to serve “only one patient at a time.”

“In light of the above information, you are not to engage in this activity in the City of Tacoma effective October 24,2010,” stated the letter, adding that failure to comply would subject each dispensary to revocation of business license and potential civil and criminal penalties.

Pot proponents – including Sensible Washington members — argued the city’s interpretation of the law was far narrower than other jurisdictions, including Seattle, which generally allows such dispensaries to operate.

“The City of Tacoma is clearly misinterpreting state law on medical marijuana,” said Sensible Washington chair and medical marijuana attorney Douglas Hiatt. “The City’s reading of the law is inconsistent with what Washington voters approved in 1998. It’s also inconsistent with how the same law is read by King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes.”

City Council members said they were caught off guard by the city notices – and the controversy they stirred.

“It was a bit of a surprise,” Councilman Marty Campbell said.

Assistant City Manager Rey Arellano apologized to council members Tuesday for city staff sending the letters being sent without first consulting the council.

Medical marijuana has been a hot topic in Tacoma since a dispensary – Club 420 – was raided in mid-May and two men arrested on a slew of drug-related charges. Both have pleaded not guilty.

After the raid, dozens of residents and business owners showed up at a City Council meeting to express concern about wasting city resources and making it more difficult for patients to obtain medicine in a safe manner. Strickland later suggested the city include language in the city’s legislative policy manual that encourages state lawmakers to clarify the medical marijuana law.

“The reason these letters went out is you have a few of these alleged providers that are dealing drugs, and they’re ruining it for legitimate providers,” Strickland added.

Even as protesters began to arrive for the rally at City Hall Tuesday afternoon, Strickland and the council were in a ninth-floor meeting room discussing the proposed compromise and hearing input from City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli.

“The best solution would be to have the Legislature get in there and to make things clear for everyone,” Pauli said.

Because the issue was not an item on the council’s agenda Tuesday – public comment is generally reserved for agenda items — Strickland said that the council would not allow any medical marijuana protesters to speak at the regular council meeting. Council members instead invited them to provide written comments, or return next month for the city’s next regularly scheduled Citizens’ Forum – when anyone can speak about any issue.

Leave a comment Comments → 19
  1. Kevindot1 says:

    @BigSwingingRichard, there is absolutely no mention of selling or dispensing marijuana on the street. Leave it to a conservative to claim things were said that were never said.

  2. I stubbed my toe.
    Now gimme some dat good stuf.

  3. arcticbob says:

    Actually having stores that are open and legitimate will actually reduce the amount of patients looking for meds on the black market. This way the medical documents are verified and there is no room for error especially with the new paper work that the latest legislative revision put in place to keep the fraud down. Actually people across all political lines are in favor of medical cannabis. Please get educated on this issue, don’t believe the government lies and propaganda. The government does not even need to be involved in what medicine I choose to use to get well. procon.org does a good job of compiling the information in one spot if you need a reference.

  4. reformedliberal says:

    I just want one question answered:

    Why does TPD hate cancer patients?


    Lt. Shawn Stringer, what do you have against sick people? Please explain.

  5. The medical marijuana law is designed to shield patients from prosecution under state law. Qualifying conditions are tightly restricted by the state, and patients are still subject to arrest. Until such time as we have proper regulation, dispensaries will be subject to exploitation by the black market (as we saw in LA county) and until we have legalization for responsible adults, high school students will continue to report pot is much easier to obtain than alcohol or cigarettes.

    The best way to protect children and patients is to legalize and regulate, with age verification checks.

  6. madmike272 says:

    How many of these “patients” are realy patients?

  7. reformedliberal says:

    “How many of these “patients” are realy patients?”

    Nobody is asking that question, and TPD has already stated their official policy is “We don’t care.”

  8. “A lot of legislators are worried about voting on anything involving marijuana,”

    Those legislators had better start voting along with the public or the public will vote them out so they don’t have to worry about marijuana at all. What century are these neanderthals think they’re living in?

  9. Why are legislators worried about voting on anything involving marijuana? Honestly, it’s a budget neutral (Or even budget positive, if you tax it) way to make your base happy. What’s to be afraid of? Heck, even Milton Friedman says we should legalize it. There should be bipartisan agreement on this.

  10. OldLefty says:

    “madmike272 says:
    October 19, 2010 at 6:50 pm
    How many of these “patients” are realy patients? ”

    An issue between a patient and his or her doctor. All this talk about “personal freedom” goes right down the rat hole when you bring up marijuana or women’s health care.

  11. Let me see: We violate federal law and that is alright. We do not verify that the patient is end stage of life and that is alright. What is the standard for medical pot? What dose is being used? Yes I know there are physicians that prescribe drugs of any kind and for any excuse as they make good money from it. I personally believe they belong in jail and not in medicine.

  12. LydiaEnsley says:

    bigswingingrichard- The point is to take medicine off the streets. By patients not being able to have safe access to medicine they are forced to the black market which does not help anyone. These dispensaries check id and verfy the doctors recommendation to use marijuana. Drug dealers do none of these things.

  13. LydiaEnsley says:

    madmike- I was there this evening and almost EVERYONE there was a patient.

    Ron- It saddens me that someone would believe that a doctor willing to recomend marijuana as an alternative to dangerous narcotics is a criminal. I am a patient myself and thank the stars for the ability to seek out a medicine that does not ruin my kidneys or have harmful addictive properties like opiate derived pain killers.

  14. DAKOTANATIVE says:

    We have people going from doctor to doctor getting all kinds of drugs they don’t need so they can sell them on the street, but if someone wants to take a little pot home and releive their pain, everyone gets in their undies in a bunch. Is it because the drug companies are getting their share?


  16. The way I have it figured. All of you that are adamantly opposed to medical usage are either (1) your local drug dealer or (2) a representative of a drug company. Either way, your vested interest is to control the marketplace and dictate high prices. During prohibition in the 1930’s gangsters and politicians were opposed to booze for the same reasons. It is really interesting how immaturely people like BigSwingingRichard present their arguments for being opposed. And Kevindot1, BigSwingingRichard is not a conservative since conservatives would be opposed to interfering with personal liberties and personal privacy, especially between a doctor and his patient.

  17. “”Let me see: We violate federal law and that is alright.”
    Not only is it alright, but it is required that we stand up to unjust laws.
    We do not verify that the patient is end stage of life and that is alright.
    Where does it say you have to be at “end stage of life” to qualify for Cannabis?
    What is the standard for medical pot? What dose is being used?
    Since there is no possible overdose, I think the patient best determines that.

    Yes I know there are physicians that prescribe drugs of any kind and for any excuse as they make good money from it. I personally believe they belong in jail and not in medicine.
    Of course you do, that is the answer to all our problems ,just throw everyone in jail……..welcome to Amerika,land of for profit prisons.

  18. Ever notice how the right is anti-goverment contorl, pro-individual freddom. But now wants local governments to enforce the big bad federal government regulations?

  19. sjsinger says:

    One incompetent gov body waiting for an even more incompetent gov body to clarify an issue created by the more incompetent gov body. Anybody think there will be any real clarification in your lifetime?

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