SEATTLE — The city of Seattle is warning more than 300 medical marijuana businesses that their days could be numbered.
Officials have sent letters to Seattle medical marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries reminding them they need to either shut down or be licensed by the state by next summer.
The problem is that the Legislature hasn’t yet created a licensing system to allow sales of medical marijuana.
How to regulate pot for medical use is expected to be a hot topic when lawmakers go back into session in January. Officials fear the unregulated cannabis is competing with Washington’s new, highly taxed recreational market.
Some lawmakers, including Rep. Chris Hurst, an Enumclaw Democrat who heads the House committee that oversees the marijuana industry, have urged the city to crack down on its proliferation of medical pot shops, and the U.S. attorney’s offices in Seattle and Spokane have long said the state’s unregulated medical pot system isn’t tenable.
The Seattle City Council voted last year to give medical marijuana businesses that opened before Nov. 16, 2013, time to obtain state licenses, anticipating that the Legislature would adopt such a licensing scheme. But it also said medical pot dispensaries opening after that date would not be tolerated.
Nevertheless, dozens have opened in the city since then, city records show. In their letters this month, two city departments — Planning and Development, and Finance and Administrative Services — warned: “If you began operating after November 16, 2013 and do not have a state issued license, you are in violation of city law and can be subject to enforcement action.”
The letters worried medical marijuana advocates who say they fear patients will have a harder time finding cannabis.
“We’re urging the Legislature to adopt a legal framework that can allow the two programs — adult use and medical — to exist side-by-side,” said Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access. “In the meantime, the city of Seattle should back off its stringent stance on requiring medical marijuana businesses to obtain a license that doesn’t yet exist.”