Seattle Lawyer Challenges Medical Pot Ordinance on Dispensary Regulation, Oversight

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A Seattle attorney has filed suit against a new ordinance that calls for the city to tax, oversee and regulate medical marijuana dispensaries in the region, calling the initiative unconstitutional.

While similar lawsuits have popped up in cities with medical pot laws across the country, this one is particularly interesting because of who filed it: Douglas Hiatt, a medical cannabis defense attorney and general pot advocate.

The marijuana industry has welcomed regulations in other cities and states because it helps legitimize the business and sets up a state-approved pot distribution framework that lowers the chance of federal prosecution. So one would think that Seattle’s cannabis community would be just as receptive, especially when so many cities in MMJ states are starting to ban dispensaries outright. The Seattle ordinance also has the backing of some big, influential names: Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and city attorney Pete Holmes.

Hiatt, however, has a big problem with the new ordinance, saying it essentially means dispensaries will be admitting that they are engaging in an illegal activity and leaves them without a legal defense if prosecuted. He also argues that the city has no right to enact such an ordinance under state MMJ laws.

The situation in Seattle highlights how fractured the medical pot industry is internally. Different groups have disparate agendas and differing views on how medical marijuana should be regulated, and even whether it should be at all. That’s led to conflicts around the country.

In Seattle, several industry advocates criticized Hiatt’s lawsuit, saying that it’s a slap in the face to politicians who are trying to support medical marijuana. The same situation played out in Colorado, where some cannabis groups opposed the adoption of new regulations on the industry, while others supported it.

This has made it difficult for the industry to present a united front against efforts to limit its growth or bury it all together. Internal conflicts also could make other city leaders fearful of backing MMJ legislation, as they might walk into a minefield if they do.