Seattle Passes New Medical Marijuana Ordinance

Seattle and Medical MarijuanaThe Seattle City Council recently passed Council Bill 118419 and Resolution 31595, setting forth the city’s official stance on medical marijuana businesses. Ultimately, MMJ businesses that have held a city business license before January 1, 2013 will be allowed to continue to operate until July 1, 2016 — the city will allow those businesses to operate beyond July 1, 2016 if and only if those businesses obtain a license to operate from the Washington Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB). Those cannabis businesses that failed to obtain a city business license before January 1, 2013 will likely face automatic shutdown by the city in the months leading up to next summer.

Currently, marijuana activity is the lowest priority for the Seattle Police Department. Nonetheless, with the passage of the new city laws, Seattle is adopting a three-tiered enforcement priority system to target non-compliant businesses and individuals based on the following criteria:

  • Highest priority – Tier 1. The first enforcement priority includes “non-state-licensed marijuana establishments operating without a City of Seattle business license or a business license issued after January 1, 2013.” This priority also includes individuals who provide marijuana or marijuana products to minors, delivery services for recreational marijuana, non-licensed marijuana establishments that are under investigation by state law enforcement, and marijuana establishments that target children with advertising or marketing.
  • Second highest priority – Tier 2. The second enforcement priority tier focuses on non-state-licensed marijuana establishments operating in violation of building and construction, land use, fire, or other city codes, MMJ delivery services, and any individual or entity that allows marijuana consumption on its property in violation of state law.
  • Third Highest Priority – Tier 3. This last tier focuses on non-state licensed marijuana businesses that opened after January 1, 2013, but that are at least 80% owned by a person or entity that received a city business license before that date–to remain in this enforcement tier, these businesses must show the city that their operations have been continuous and provide to the city valid documentation regarding the 80% ownership by those qualified individuals.  This third tier also includes cannabis distributors that have not submitted their product for quality testing, MMJ establishments distributing marijuana within 500 feet of another MMJ establishment (whether licensed or unlicensed), and MMJ establishments out of compliance with the state’s current medical marijuana laws under RCW 69.51A.

All of this means that to operate within the city of Seattle a marijuana business must have a Title 6 license from the city and the Department of Finance and Administrative Services will oversee the issuance of those licenses. Applications for these licenses are due within 30 days after the ordinances become effective, and each application will cost around $1,000.

Notably, a few distinct industry groups will be exempt from the city’s licensing requirements: labs that conduct tests on marijuana, producers of marijuana beauty aids not meant for consumption that have a minimum amount of THC, and, as mentioned above,  MMJ businesses that were issued a business license by the city and were operating before January 1, 2013 and have no outstanding judgments against them for unpaid wages or tip compensation and are current with state and local taxes.

Those MMJ business that can meet the city’s new requirements will be allowed to operate until July 1, 2016 without a city license. At that point it must obtain licenses from both the LCB and the City of Seattle.

These new ordinances also provide for Seattle police to confiscate all marijuana and marijuana products possessed by a marijuana business that does not have a valid city license or that does not meet any of the exemptions. Seattle police are  authorized to seize all marijuana or marijuana products that do not meet all state and city requirements.

Though King County has opted to crack down on unlicensed medical marijuana storefronts, Seattle is taking a somewhat softer approach. Nonetheless, if your MMJ business is in King County or within the City of Seattle, you must either comply with SB 5052 or face the consequences.