Washington: Rowdy News Conference Announces Closure Of Medical Marijuana Dispensaries

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By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg and Sheriff John Urquhart must have envisioned quite a different news conference than the one which actually happened Wednesday morning, when they announced the closure of medical marijuana dispensaries operating in King County.

The medicinal cannabis dispensaries, which in some cases after years of smooth operation have now been suddenly defined as "unlicensed" in a money grab by I-502 recreational marijuana store operator, represent the only safe and affordable access to cannabinoid medicines for many limited mobility and low income patients in King County.

The dispensaries have to shut down in 30 days, if they don't have a license -- oh, and did we mention that there aren't any licenses available?

Satterberg and Urquhart -- who maybe expected to be hailed as heroes at their news conference -- were joined by Russ Hauge of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), at the Sheriff's Office White Center Storefront. But that's not what happened, reports Gwen Davis at the West Seattle Herald.

They were greeted by a vocally hostile crowd of about 30, with hecklers screaming at the prosecuting attorney and the sheriff as they were trying to give their prepared speeches, which were rendered mostly inaudible.

"You are horrible people!" one woman yelled at Satterberg.

"If you have a license you can sell; if you can't you won't," Satterberg somewhat inarticulately told the hostile throng. "I'd like to take actual questions, not speeches," he responded with hostility of his own.

Fifteen "unlicensed" medical marijuana dispensaries (no license for medical dispensaries, as opposed to recreational shops, is available) were sent letters informing them they do not have a "state-approved license" for the sale of marijuana, and must close their stores, according to Satterberg and Urquhart

The only remaining legally licensed marijuana store in White Center is now Bud Nation, according to Bud Nation's Elizabeth Gordon.

When I-502 was approved by voters in November 2012, it created a system for the licensed production, processing and retail distribution of marijuana with no medical qualification needed; patients were assured that recreational legalization wouldn't affect medical access.

But it only took about five minutes after I-502 passed that would-be recreational marijuana merchants started eyeing the profits earned at medical marijuana dispensaries, and scheming to re-route that money through their stores.

With a little bit of convincing and a whole lot of campaign contributions, I-502 interests got the Washington Legislature to "fold in" medical cannabis into the state's recreational licensing system, effectively eliminating collective gardens and dispensaries. Retail I-502 recreational operations now represent the only places licensed by the state to legally sell marijuana.

That means operators of medical marijuana dispensaries -- which have been providing safe access to patients for years in Washington state, especially the Seattle area -- are now subject to arrest and criminal sanctions, according to Satterberg's office.

That also means patients -- who until now have been allowed to cultivate up to 15 plants for their own medicine -- will soon be subject to arrest if they grow anything over four plants (if they aren't on a state registry) or six plants (if they agree to register with the state).

Photo: Tim Clifford/West Seattle Herald