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Seattle's medical pot dispensaries seek guidance on rules


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SEATTLE -- In several cases, the cities have been the last to know about new medicinal marijuana dispensaries, often just stumbling across them in a newspaper advertisement or television news report.
Not a good thing when you're the city office in charge of licensing new businesses.
"The ones we know of, whether they told us, or we read it in The Stranger," said Denise Movius, director of the Revenue and Consumer Affairs Division, "we are assigning a code called 'all other health and personal care stores.'"
Depending on who you ask, there are 24, 30, or up to 50 dispensaries peppered throughout the City of Seattle.
Inaccurate estimates come because even proprietors who report their existence call themselves health clinics, pharmacies or something else; the city has no legally defined category for "cannabis dispensary."
"We don't have rules like we do for other shops," said City Councilwoman Sally Clark, who chairs the committee in charge of zoning. "If you're a car repair shop, if you're a dry cleaners, we have rules of the road for where you can locate and how you can operate within the city."
"This is completely an unregulated market," said Oscar Velasco-Schmitz, co-founder of the Dockside Co-op in Seattle's Fremont neighborhood. "If there are mechanisms or some set of maxims that these businesses can follow, I think that would be very welcome."
With a professionally-designed waiting area and store space, Velasco-Schmitz said he wants to defy the stigma of pot dispensaries, "to not be regarded as criminals." But his facility, for privacy and security reasons, still maintains a nondescript, virtually unmarked appearance outside.
In a state that approved medicinal marijuana use in 1998, and a city where the whole city council and many residents support it, city leaders say Seattle is overdue for some rules as to how these dispensaries work, what they look like and where they can go.
"We feel a little pressure to get going because we are seeing these pop up in different parts of the city," Clark said.
This week, state lawmakers heard testimony on the latest bill (SB 5955) seeking to allow for statewide regulation of medicinal marijuana dispensaries. As it stands, qualified patients in Washington can grow and use medicinal pot, but dispensaries have no legal mechanism by which to conduct business.

"I'd like to see the state do something that's statewide so you don't have to have a map of where it's okay, where it's not okay, and have a bunch of jurisdiction enforcement issues as a result," said Seattle resident Kevin Klinemeyer.
Councilwoman Clark said she hopes the legislature passes some version of the bill before it adjourns, so city leaders don't have to forge on without some sort of legal framework.
"I'd like to get those rules teed up and start debating it in the second half of this year." Clark said.
But if that's the only way the lawmakers can pass any kind of regulation, Oscar Velasco-Schmitz says he'll take it.
"It helps to de-marginalize the use of medical cannabis, is what it does," he said.
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