Bellingham revokes, denies registrations for medical marijuana co-op
BELLINGHAM - Medical marijuana dispensaries in the city are operating in a gray area after having their registrations revoked by the city of Bellingham.
Shane Brady of the city attorney's office said that the decision to deny and revoke registrations for the dispensaries came after the city received a business application for one last fall. After looking at the application and the purpose of the business, the city attorney's office decided that it wasn't compliant with state and federal law and denied the application.
"Under the current law - which a lot of people probably say isn't the clearest of laws - the city does not believe these businesses are lawful," Brady said. "And we can't issue a license to an unlawful business."
So the city revoked the registrations of current dispensaries and decided to deny any further applications - five in total.
"We decided from there that the city should have an even-handed approach," Brady said. "In our minds, these are unlawful businesses."
It's still unclear, however, how the city will respond to dispensaries that continue to operate without registrations. Without that registration, businesses would be violating municipal code that requires any business operating in the city to register with the city for tax purposes, Finance Director John Carter said.
"We're still deciding how to approach this issue as far as down the road," Brady said of the unregistered dispensaries. "We haven't made any decision on how we're going to handle that."
While medical marijuana is legal to possess with a prescription in Washington state, the ways it can be obtained are in dispute.
Michael Drechsler, who runs the collective marijuana garden Doja Rose, said he understands why the city made its decision.
"Realistically, all they're doing is holding up what the state has said," he said. "Their hands are tied. They're just as confused about this as everyone else is right now."
Drechsler's collective does not have a storefront and serves just a few patients.
To get around the revoked registration, Doja Rose will open in February as a private, members-only access point with three or four full-time members and six rotating slots. Members contribute to the garden to pay for electricity and to get their portion of what is grown.
Drechsler said he'd like to see rules in place that he could follow, and he'd like to see more quality control for the marijuana itself.
"Marijuana is less regulated than a head of lettuce," he said. "Something is wrong."
Brady described the issue as a complicated one. The state makes provisions for medical marijuana use, allowing a designated grower to provide for a single patient. The law doesn't have a place for dispensaries, making their legality a gray issue that has the potential for exploitation.
"Any clarity the legislature can give cities and citizens on this issue would be welcome," Brady said. "I think clarity would be good for everybody."
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