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Federal Way says no to medical marijuana dispensaries | City denies business licenses
Federal Way has declared that two medical marijuana dispensaries are illegal businesses.
Conscious Care Cooperative and GAME Collective both received cease-and-desist letters from the city in January. The city denied a business license application from Conscious Care Cooperative, which opened in January at 29500 Pacific Highway S.
The denial is based on city code and noted that “the proposed business will be used for the distribution of marijuana. Marijuana dispensaries are illegal under state and federal law.” According to the city, anyone operating a business without a license is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor and subject to civil penalties of up to $500 a day.
Conscious Care Cooperative is appealing the city’s order with a hearing examiner March 23. GAME Collective, which opened in October at 33324 Pacific Highway S., has not applied for a business license, city officials said.
"GAME Collective indeed applied for a license at the beginning of January with the City of Federal Way," said GAME manager Brionne Corbray in an email to The Mirror. "The City of Federal Way has cashed our check and has never sent us a license or a denial of license."
Bradley Ecklund, manager of Conscious Care Cooperative, said he wants to provide a place where patients can find safe access to medicine. The dispensary’s fate hinges on the March 23 hearing along with the outcome of proposed state legislation, he said.
“We’re not here to ruffle feathers,” said Ecklund, adding that the dispensary complies with state laws, accepts only donations and screens all patients to ensure they have a valid physician’s recommendation for medical marijuana.
“If the city has concerns, work with us,” Ecklund said. He noted that the dispensary serves patients representing a range of ages, backgrounds and illnesses. “This is Washington state and this is what’s going on.”
From a law enforcement perspective, it’s not a matter of whether medical marijuana is right or wrong, but whether businesses comply with the law. In Federal Way, businesses must obtain a license and pay taxes. Marijuana is illegal under federal law, and the state’s medical marijuana law from 1998 allows a designated provider to be the primary caregiver for one patient at a time. The two Federal Way dispensaries, which serve hundreds of patients, are in violation of these statutes and have not been approved to operate in the city, according to Federal Way police.
“I am very focused on reviewing and investigating the manner in which they’re doing business, and if I can generate a criminal case, I will,” said Federal Way Police Chief Brian Wilson. “If you just hang out in front of one of these locations in Federal Way, watch what’s going on. They don’t look like cancer patients.”
The Federal Way dispensaries, both located in strip malls, have already attracted trouble. Conscious Care Cooperative was burglarized Feb. 27, and residents living near GAME Collective have complained of customers dealing marijuana from their cars, said Cmdr. Stan McCall.
“There’s so much room for corruption in regards to this activity,” said McCall, who is heading police investigations on the Federal Way dispensaries. “Our elected officials may legalize (dispensaries) down the road, but now they’re not legal at all.”
The issue of local medical marijuana dispensaries was addressed publicly by Mayor Skip Priest during the Jan. 4 city council meeting.
“It is the position of the city that dispensing is illegal under the current law and it will be treated as such,” Priest said, responding to a citizen comment on business licenses for dispensaries.
Among bills in the Legislature, Senate Bill 5073 would amend state law to strengthen legal protections for qualifying patients and designated providers.
House Bill 1550, which recently failed to make it out of committee, would have paved the way for marijuana to be legalized, taxed and sold in state liquor stores. The Seattle Times printed an editorial Feb. 18 in favor of HB 1550 and legalizing marijuana in Washington. The editorial prompted a call from the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy for a meeting with the Times editorial board, according to The Stranger.
Sensible Washington is working on another initiative to remove all state penalties for marijuana for residents ages 18 and up. In 2010, a similar legalization measure failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the general election ballot.
In 1998, Washington state voters approved a law that removed criminal penalties and established a defense for qualified patients who possess or cultivate cannabis for medicinal use.
In 2008, the “60-day” supply for patients was defined as 24 ounces and 15 plants; both numbers have attracted intense debate from medical marijuana advocates. The law allows patients to exceed these limits if the patient can prove medical need, according to the Washington State Department of Health.
Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Washington’s medical marijuana laws help patients with a legal defense in local or state courts. Federal laws do not recognize the medical use of marijuana.