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Washington became one of the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2012. But there are a lot of challenges ahead: the state must set up a licensing system for marijuana growers and sellers, the federal government may mount a challenge, the need to set a new limit on amount of marijuana in the bloodstream for safe driving. And medical marijuana is still in the picture.Over the next several months we will be exploring the issue and tracking the impact of I-502.

Medical Marijuana Distributors Divided On New Law

Sean Green marijuana collective
Amy Radil

Sean Green is the owner of Pacific Northwest Medical, a medical marijuana collective in the city of Shoreline. Today he’s wearing a suit and tie, a vestige of his former career in real estate. Green says he supported Initiative 502, but he’s celebrating legalization by turning off his phones. That’s because he’s gotten so many calls from recreational users who are under the delusion that it’s now legal for Green to sell them marijuana.

A voicemail message advises callers that under Initiative 502, “licenses will not be available for some time” and that the collective can only provide access to “current medical marijuana patients.” “We just don’t have the manpower to take all the phone calls,” Green said. 

Despite this minor inconvenience, Green embraces the new marijuana law. It requires the state to develop a licensing system for marijuana growers and distributors in the coming year. Once that’s in place, Green wants to build a retail chain to sell marijuana across the state and maybe nationwide.

“Initiative 502 is just progress,” he said. “We’re moving forward into a new day. The end of Prohibition. I look forward to seeing this program or something similar roll out across the country.”

But there are some serious obstacles ahead. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Banks won’t take marijuana businesses as clients – that’s why Green’s office contains a huge black safe.

Also, Green said some landlords have become more reluctant to rent space for marijuana storefronts. And zoning in many cities restricts them.

And while Green supports I-502, other medical marijuana providers do not. Arthur West is a medical marijuana patient and a board member of the group “No on 502.” The group is also backed by medical marijuana providers. West filed a lawsuit in Thurston County. He’s seeking to have the initiative voided. He said it was deceptive because it didn’t give voters enough information on new penalties for driving under the influence of marijuana.

West also said the initiative could be a boon to drug cartels because the state distribution system doesn’t exist yet.  “What I see this being is a green light for large-scale manufacturers from out of state to load up truckloads of marijuana and drive it into Washington to sell it,” he said.

A hearing in West’s lawsuit is scheduled for Friday, December 8 in Thurston County Superior Court in Olympia. Meanwhile Sean Green says he’ll be making the trip to Olympia frequently this year, to watch as new state rules are put into place.

Year started with KUOW: 2005