The City of Federal Way is trying to shut down three medical marijuana dispensaries, asserting they're illegal under state law.
Two of the businesses are fighting back, appealing the city's denial of their business license requests.
The city is attempting to enforce the state’s medical marijuana law, but may be running out of time if the Legislature changes it in the coming weeks.
The state Senate approved a bill March 2 that would legalize and license marijuana dispensaries. The bill has now moved to the House.
Brad Ecklund , manager of Conscious Care Cooperative in Federal Way, said current state law is unclear regarding dispensaries like his.
“The law neither makes room for it nor says you can’t do it,” Ecklund said. “It’s a gray area.”
The showdown in Federal Way is another example of how cities are taking different tacks in dealing with medical marijuana distribution.
In Tacoma, the City Council decided in October to suspend the city’s attempt to shut down eight dispensaries until the Legislature could clarify the law.
“Tacoma made at least a com- passionate move saying, ‘Let’s give these guys time so the Legislature can do its job,’” Ecklund said.
In Fife, the City Council last Tuesday fell one vote shy of the five-vote supermajority required to approve a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries. With two members absent, the council voted 4-1 in favor of the emergency moratorium. The council is scheduled to vote on the six-month moratorium again today.
Even though Fife now has no medical marijuana dispensaries, the moratorium would give the city more time to “make our own decision for what’s best for the community,” including potential zoning of the businesses, said Fife Mayor Barry Johnson. He voted for the measure.
In 1998, Washington voters approved a ballot measure allowing patients to grow marijuana for their own use or designate a provider to grow it on their behalf, as long as providers serve only one patient at a time.
The City of Federal Way says the law means a provider may distribute medical marijuana to only one person.
“I think there’s a difference in interpretation of the state law,” City Attorney Pat Richardson said. “We want businesses to be operating legally.”
If a dispensary bill is approved by the Legislature, the city would analyze the revised law, she said.
“It’s still not law so we’re moving forward under the current law,” Richardson said.
Federal Way denied business license requests from two marijuana dispensaries, Conscious Care Cooperative and Cascade Medical Center. The third, G.A.M.E. Collective, did not apply for a business license.
All three operations are on a three-mile stretch between the 29000 and 34000 blocks of Pacific Highway South.
The city says marijuana dispensaries are illegal under both state and federal law. The city says it can fine the businesses up to $500 a day for operating without a license.
It issued cease-and-desist orders to Conscious Care and G.A.M.E., which is short for Greenpiece Alternative Medicine and Educational Center. The city did not issue a similar order against Cascade because it didn’t believe the business was operating. Cascade operator Dave Madrid said last week it is dispensing medical marijuana.
Federal Way police Cmdr. Stan McCall said the city would make arrests and pursue charges if it believes it could win a case in court. He said police are waiting for a hearing examiner’s ruling on the licensing issue before taking further action.
Conscious Care’s appeal is scheduled for review by a hearing examiner March 23.
Ecklund said his cooperative signed up more than 250 new medical marijuana patients in Federal Way in February.
It’s also been a victim of crime. Someone broke in the early morning of Feb. 27 and stole the safe, Ecklund said. Police found it in Northeast Tacoma later that week with thousands of dollars missing, he said.
Cascade also appealed its business license denial to a hearing examiner. A hearing on that appeal is set for March 30, Madrid said.
A hearing examiner’s ruling could be appealed to the Federal Way City Council and then to King County Superior Court.
McCall said the three dispensaries are selling marijuana illegally.
“Our primary concern is public safety, what’s in the best interests of the city and upholding the law,” he said.
In addition, some residents who live near G.A.M.E. have complained of customers selling their marijuana in the parking lot, McCall said.
“The people that live and work in those areas don’t like that,” he said.
Federal Way Police Chief Brian J. Wilson said police have made arrests related to the operations of medical marijuana dispensaries in Federal Way. He declined to be more specific because of ongoing investigations.