Seattle approves medical marijuana regulations

SEATTLE Tue Jul 19, 2011 9:23am EDT

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SEATTLE (Reuters) - The City Council voted on Monday to establish a municipal licensing and regulation system for medical marijuana distribution in Seattle under a new Washington state law that takes effect later this week.

Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has indicated he will sign the ordinance, which is at odds with a series of new restrictions and bans on medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities imposed by other municipalities around the state.

Seattle is Washington's largest city.

The 8-0 vote in favor of the measure comes nearly three months after Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law a new measure allowing cities to regulate and license production, processing and distribution of medical marijuana on a limited basis.

That statute, which takes effect on Friday, requires storefront dispensaries and other medical pot suppliers to reorganize themselves as small, cooperative ventures serving up to 10 patients. These "collective gardens" are confined to growing 45 plants total but no more than 15 per person.

The state law was passed in response to a recent proliferation of storefront dispensaries that were neither explicitly banned nor permitted under a 1988 voter-approved initiative legalizing pot for medicinal purposes.

Gregoire vetoed provisions that would have established licensing for growing and distributing medical marijuana at the state level.

Although cannabis is still listed as an illegal narcotic under federal law, 15 states and the District of Columbia have statutes decriminalizing marijuana as a treatment for various medical conditions, according to the National Drug Policy Alliance.

Seattle officials backing the proposed city ordinance say more than 25,000 of the city's 600,000 residents use cannabis for medical reasons. They argue that regulation will bring more order to the burgeoning supply chain.

"We're saying, 'You're already here, now we need to regulate you,'" Seattle Councilwoman Sally Clark said.

The proposed ordinance would require medical marijuana businesses to comply with city codes that govern everything from plumbing to public nuisance complaints.

About 80 medical marijuana dispensaries have sprung up in Seattle, but only about 50 of them have registered with the city, Clark said.

A spokesman for McGinn said the mayor will sign the ordinance, possibly on Tuesday, and the measure would go into effect in 30 days.

(Editing by Steve Gorman, Alex Dobuzinskis and Peter Bohan)

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