Updated after the jump with comments from Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the city's Department of Planning Development.
Dozens of medical marijuana dispensaries in Seattle have failed to get the proper business license, city officials say, despite City Hall's best efforts to give them some sort of legal shelter.
The problems began last year when Governor Christine Gregoire gutted and signed a medical marijuana bill that seemed to prohibit hundreds of dispensaries in Washington State. Last July, as cities across Washington followed suit by banning dispensaries from operating in their jurisdictions, Mayor Mike McGinn signed a law that would allow the city of Seattle to license, tax, and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries "just like any other business," as McGinn said at the time. The gesture creates at leas the appearance the the city accepts these businesses, hopefully deterring state or federal enforcement.
But three months after the law took affect, the city's Department of Finance and Administrative services estimates that there are 105 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in Seattle—however, 37 of them have failed to obtain business licenses. "We only have 68 dispensaries currently licensed in our system," says Denise Movius, a spokeswoman for the city's business licensing division. "We've gotten the names of the rest by reading The Stranger and other advertisements."
Movius's has been contacting the rogue dispensaries to remind them to get a business license. "Most have been very responsive to us," Movius says. "We haven't had to take action to shut anyone down."
Ignoring the city's $90 business license doesn't conclusively mean these shops are disregarding Seattle's land-use and fire-code regulations. But it could be an indicator: The city's customer service bureau has received at least seven complaints about dispensaries in recent months, prompting investigations of violations from Planning Development. "The general complaint is that the businesses are operating illegally but about half of the sites had no violations," says Bryan Stevens, a spokesman for the DPD. "Three were conducting business in places where they were not permitted," including a residential area and an office building.
Stevens says it's "not uncommon" to find that small businesses, like dispensaries, are unfamiliar with permitting practices, but as the city tries in good faith to regulate a federally-mandated illegal substance, clearly it's a troubling sign that these businesses either aren't aware of city laws or are unwilling to follow them.