Seattle mayor signs medical pot regulations
By Laura L. Myers
SEATTLE (Reuters) - Seattle's mayor signed into law on Wednesday a licensing system for medical marijuana distribution, with the city's attorney vowing to show that pot regulation can be done "safely and humanely."
Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn, in a 40-minute signing ceremony, said that licensed medical marijuana suppliers must comply with city codes that govern everything from public nuisance complaints to plumbing and food-handling.
The City Council passed the ordinance unanimously on July 19, nearly three months after Washington's governor signed into law a statewide measure allowing cities to regulate and license production, processing and distribution of medical marijuana on a limited basis.
The state statute, which took effect on Friday, required storefront dispensaries and medical pot suppliers to reorganize as small, cooperative ventures that serve up to 10 patients.
Called "collective gardens," these businesses may grow as many as 45 plants, but no more than 15 per person.
Governor Christine Gregoire had vetoed provisions that would have established licensing for growing and distributing medical marijuana at the state level.
Although cannabis is listed as an illegal narcotic under federal law, 16 states and the District of Columbia have statutes decriminalizing marijuana as a medical treatment, according to the Drug Policy Alliance.
Pot was first legalized as medicine in Washington state under a 1998 voter-approved initiative. The law Gregoire signed earlier this year was designed by supporters to bring greater order to a burgeoning medical marijuana supply chain that critics say had gotten out of hand.
Seattle has about 80 medical marijuana dispensaries but only about 50 currently are registered with the city. Meanwhile, about 25,000 of the city's 600,000 residents use prescribed cannabis for pain relief from illnesses such as cancer, AIDS and glaucoma.
"We hope that we can demonstrate a more sane approach in Seattle," McGinn said in signing the new ordinance, which takes effect in 30 days.
"Now patients do not have to buy their medicine from drug dealers," City Attorney Pete Holmes said, adding the measure "will show the world this will be done safely and humanely."
Storefront dispensaries -- neither explicitly banned nor permitted under the 1998 law -- have sprung up across the state in the two years since the Obama administration said it would no longer prosecute patients who use medical marijuana, or shops that distribute it, in states where it was made legal.
In recent months, however, the Justice Department has taken a hard line against what it considers illegal drug trafficking conducted under the guise of state medical marijuana laws.
A federal grand jury indicted the operators of two medical marijuana dispensaries in Spokane, Washington, on July 20.
Seattle is the state's largest city. Several smaller municipalities have banned medical marijuana gardens outright.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Peter Bohan)
(This story corrects the number of states that allow medical marijuana and the date of state initiative)