King County to Crack Down on Medical Marijuana Storefronts

Earlier this week, King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg gave a stern warning that unlicensed medical marijuana shops (a/k/a access points) need to wrap up, shut down, and apply for a state license from the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB) if they want to continue to operate in the future. King County is by far Washington State’s most populous county.

Seattle and Medical MarijuanaOn Wednesday, King County sheriffs sent letters similar to this one to 15 medical marijuana storefronts in unincorporated King County. This letter states that “Washington law allows the retail sale of marijuana only if a business has obtained a license from the state Liquor and Cannabis Board.” According to the County prosecutor’s office, only marijuana sold through a licensed store is legal. These changes come on the heels of SB 5052, which brings medical marijuana commercial activity under LCB authority and within Washington State’s highly regulated cannabis system.

The letters also claim that “only true ‘collective gardens’ operating under the strict requirements of the law will be allowed to continue to operate” until July 1 2016, when SB 5052 goes into full effect. Although no arrests have been made, it is imperative that medical marijuana operators pay attention to these letters. The medical marijuana industry in Washington faces huge changes and Dan Satterberg has made it clear that anyone involved with running one of these illegal MMJ retail businesses faces serious civil and criminal liability.

For years now, whenever we predict changes to Washington State’s medical cannabis laws or write about the changes that have occurred, we get comments and emails from people angry at us for those changes. We do not write the laws; we merely write about the laws and counsel our own clients to best help cannabis businesses prepare for them. These recent happenings in King County are a sign of things to come in Washington State’s medical marijuana industry. It is fine to complain about those new laws but at the same time it is imperative to prepare for them. For medical marijuana businesses in Washington State that wish to continue operating, that means preparing to apply for and securing licenses from the LCB under SB 5052.

The bottom line? Medical marijuana storefronts in Washington State must get legal or close or the legal authorities will shut them down and start making arrests and issuing fines. And we doubt that King County will be the last local government to take such action.