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The Struggle With Non-Compliant Cannabis Businesses in Seattle

Editor’s Note: John Davis is Executive Director of the Seattle-based Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, a non-profit group whose focus is safe and compliant access for everyone in Washington State. He has been working on cannabis law reform for more than 20 years, and was kind enough to let us republish this recent letter to the Seattle City Council. It urges the Mayor and Council to move ahead and deal with the issue of how non-compliant marijuana businesses are impacting legitimate commercial enterprises that are working to comply with the letter and the spirit of Seattle’s historic Ordinance #123661. Given CBE’s goal to foster and support the best business practices in the Cannabis Industry, we felt John’s letter was worth sharing with our readers.

— The Editors

Mayor Murray and Seattle City Council Members,

I represent the 50 plus organizations that comprise the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics. We are composed of “502” recreational adult use, 69.51a medical cannabis professionals, and ancillary businesses that serve these professionals and businesses. 

The CCSE was founded to bring compliant organizations together and to further the compliance of those businesses that strive to run themselves as close to the letter of the law as is achievable given the current Federal restriction. It has been our honor to work with and advise the City since our inception in 2011.  It was recently our honor to partner with the State of Washington to help them write the guidebook for implementation with the IRAC work group.

I am writing to you today to express our organization’s deep appreciation for your efforts to create a regulated cannabis system within the City of Seattle given the lack of clarity created by the Governor’s veto of SB-5073.

We have come far since Seattle’s historic Ordinance #123661 in July of 2011 that established the very first regulatory system within the City to create some clarity as to how cannabis business could operate. Since then, the city has passed zoning regulation to further define where, in our city, these businesses were appropriate. Now we are embarking on the next steps after Washington State voters overwhelmingly approved outright legalization of adult-use cannabis.

Of course, as we are finding out, the problem remains not a question of should this substance be illegal, but how can it be best regulated.

Prohibition has proven itself a disaster on a number of levels. Now, after the citizens of the State of Washington have realized this and turned boldly in a different direction, the question seems to be “Now what?”

We, the member organizations of the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics, have always appreciated Seattle’s forward and pragmatic approach to cannabis policy. As you know, many other localities have chosen to enact moratoria which only serves to delay the action that will eventually need to take place. This will not stop the flow of cannabis into these localities. This will serve to foster and embolden a new black market.

In Seattle, a lack of guidance has led to illegal recreational marijuana delivery services blatantly advertising their services. Other businesses have opened their doors as “69.51a medical” businesses with no intention of following the RCW. These businesses are often neighborhood nuisances inappropriately located and bringing risk to locals and stakeholders.

It is a complaint we hear often from compliant businesses both on the 502 and 69.51a sides that these businesses are able to undercut their prices because the non-compliant market has a fraction of the overhead costs associated. Some compliant shops are in danger of closing because they cannot compete against this ad-hoc market.

What the city is proposing is the logical next step after the passage of Ordinance #124326, the City’s cannabis zoning initiative project. The City must be able to recognize what is a compliant commercial business and what is not. Adding some additional metrics to those listed in #123661, Seattle’s original cannabis Ordinance, will achieve much although most of the requirements are addressed between 123661 and 124326. 

We believe that the minimum metrics that should be considered for commercial business are, appropriate tax payments and business licensing dating before the 2013 date established in 124326 Section 2, Note 14 and adherence to the zoning established in 124326. Businesses should additionally not have any issues outstanding with SMC 10.09, Seattle’s nuisance code. A licensing system is an excellent way of determining adherence to whatever the litmus test is that the City chooses.

We would respectfully request that the proposal to require that businesses (we assume retail only) be 1000 feet from each other be re-examined. There are some areas of the city which do have the appearance of “clustering.” There are few areas of the city where both zoning and proximity issues allow these businesses to exist  

There are areas where more than one compliant location has been established. In areas of clustering, there are many that are not compliant to 123661. The ones that can pass the compliance test, in our opinion, should be allowed to stay. 

Keep in mind: We don’t believe that the proposal allows for new storefront medical (69.51a) locations. “Clustering” will be lessened and new 69.51a shops will not be opened. New 502 locations should not be further restricted as the areas of Seattle where they can be located are already overly restrictive.

Again we look forward to assisting in any way to facilitate Seattle’s next steps. Feel free to contact us at any time.

Thank you for your consideration,

John Davis
Executive Director
Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics

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