A pamphlet discussing pot use in Washington state is shown on a counter at recreational marijuana shop Cannabis City on July 7, 2015, in Seattle. (Ted S. Warren, The Associated Press)

Washington state cracking down on unlicensed medical marijuana stores

SEATTLE — Fifteen unlicensed medical marijuana shops in unincorporated King County are on notice that they are violating the law.

King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg and Sheriff John Urquhart said Wednesday that they are cracking down on these stores after Washington lawmakers amended Initiative 502 to require licenses for all pot shops.

The change in the law brought medical marijuana into the state licensing and tax scheme, Satterberg said. The stores were notified by mail this week, and if they continue to operate as unlicensed retail outlets for the black market, they’ll face civil and criminal ramifications, Satterberg said.

Washington voters adopted Initiative 502 in 2012, requiring the state to create a system for the licensed production, processing and sale of marijuana. The Legislature recently amended that law to bring medical marijuana into the system and eliminate “collective gardens,” he said.

That means only licensed operations can sell pot, he said.

“It’s not fair for those stores that are doing it right and having to compete with the unlicensed stores that don’t have to pay the 37 percent tax,” Satterberg said. There was one licensed store in the White Center neighborhood where Satterberg held a news conference with Urquhart, and it must compete with a handful of unlicensed medical marijuana stores, he said.

“The state has set forth the rules,” he said, and if the shops don’t have a license through the state Liquor and Cannabis Board, “they must immediately close down.”

The 15 stores that received notices include seven in the White Center neighborhood, two in Skyway and six in the eastern part of the county. Messages left at Northwest Cannabis Market in Seattle and Military Road Holistic in Auburn were not immediately returned. There was no answer at Pacific Coast Natural Medicine in Seattle or The Solution Renton.

“They are taking tax money from the state and operating in locations that would never be approved by the LCB,” he said. “They are a blight on the neighborhoods they inhabit.”

Satterberg said the federal government is watching how Washington regulates the marijuana industry, and the success of the law depends on how well local jurisdictions deal with the unlicensed retail stores.

In addition to sending notifications to the 15 stores, county officials have notified landlords that there is an illegal business operating on the property, he said. This means that if the stores continue to operate illegally, the Liquor and Cannabis Board can go in and seize all of the product.

If the civil options don’t work, they’ll consider criminal remedies, he said.

“We’re not going in heavy handed on this,” he said. “We’re telling them the new scheme has to be followed. The days of the Wild West are over.”

Follow Martha Bellisle on Twitter: @marthabellisle