Seattle to shutter dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries

SEATTLE — With Washington state overhauling its medical marijuana law, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says the city is planning to shutter dozens of dispensaries.

Murray on Tuesday announced plans to require a new special business license for marijuana establishments, akin to those required for taxi operators and pawn shops. Under the mayor’s plan, the businesses will be required to obtain the licenses by July 2016.

But just as the state’s new medical marijuana law gives priority in licensing to dispensaries that were in operation before Jan. 1, 2013, so does Murray’s proposal. Seattle officials say that by their tally, 54 of the city’s 99 medical marijuana storefronts opened after that date or have been operating without a city business license.

Murray’s office says those businesses won’t be getting the special license and need to shut down. The rest will be allowed to remain open long enough to see if they wind up being permitted by the state.

“It is time to ensure that everyone plays by the same rules,” Murray said. “We’re strengthening the recreational marijuana market and creating safer, more consistent access for those who rely on medicinal products.”

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a new medical marijuana law as they tried to reconcile the tension in the marketplace since voters in 2012 approved a measure legalizing recreational use of pot.

The proliferation of green-cross medical dispensaries had long been a concern for police and other officials who said they were a masquerade for black-market sales. Some proprietors of the new, state-licensed recreational pot businesses — saddled with higher taxes — called them unfair competitors.

Among the new state medical marijuana law’s many provisions, it creates a voluntary registry of patients and, beginning next year, eliminates what have become in some cases large, legally dubious “collective gardens” providing cannabis to thousands of people.

Instead, those patients will be able to purchase medical-grade products at legal recreational marijuana stores that obtain an endorsement to sell medical marijuana, or they’ll be able to participate in much-smaller cooperative grows, of up to just four patients.

Washington in 1998 became one of the first states to approve the use of marijuana for medical purposes.

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