Pubdate: Fri, 26 Aug 2011
Source: Seattle Times (WA)
Copyright: 2011 The Seattle Times Company
Author: Jonathan Martin, Seattle Times Staff Reporter


In the Absence of Government Regulation, the Local Medical-Marijuana
Industry Increasingly Is Trying to Professionalize the Industry With
Such Self-Policing Measures As "Best Practices" Manuals,
Quality-Control Testing Laboratories and Training Classes.

A dozen medical-marijuana entrepreneurs listened intently during a
unique four-hour class that detailed how they could stay out of
trouble, serve sick patients and prosper.

Among the tips: Keep detailed records. Pay unemployment taxes. Buy
air-filtration systems. Don't buy pot brownies from noncommercial kitchens.

And get your terminology right: Medical-marijuana patients don't buy,
they donate.

"I see people using 'donate' in air quotes. That's not appropriate. We
don't buy or sell anything in this business," Aaron Pelley, a defense
attorney specializing in marijuana cases, told the class. "I don't
want to see air quotes in a video when I go to defend you in court."

After legal and political hiccups this spring and summer, the state's
medical-marijuana industry is emerging reinvigorated, growing and
almost entirely based in Seattle.

And in the absence of government regulation, it increasingly is trying
to professionalize the industry with such self-policing measures as
"best practices" manuals, quality-control testing laboratories and
training classes such as the one this week.

"We cannot afford a black eye," Greta Carter, lead teacher of the
University District-based training academy Cannabis Association for
Recommendations and Education, told the class. National
medical-marijuana advocates "are categorizing Seattle with San
Francisco and Oakland. We're in an incredible utopia."

It's unclear how large the industry is. Seattle -- the only large city
in the state to openly allow medical-marijuana operations -- estimates
there are at least 70 storefront dispensaries, with more coming.
Colorado, with 1.6 million fewer people than Washington, has 730
licensed dispensers and more than 1,000 licensed growers.

Washington doesn't keep a registry of patients, but based on the
proportion of patients in Oregon and Colorado, which have registries,
there could be between 80,000 and 166,000 medical-marijuana patients
in Washington, a population somewhere between the size of Bellingham
and Vancouver.

Despite the complex issues behind the medical-marijuana industry, Gov.
Chris Gregoire's partial veto of a landmark regulatory scheme this
spring left no statewide regulation. Few cities except Seattle have
stepped in.

That has put onus of regulation on the industry itself, with mixed

The feds' concerns

While crafting Seattle's medical-marijuana ordinance, City Attorney
Pete Holmes' office asked for input from federal prosecutors. State
law has allowed use of marijuana for qualified patients since 1998,
but federal law still prohibits all use.

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan's office responded with particular
"sensitivities," including marijuana dispensaries' proximity to
schools and the number of plants on hand, according to a person
familiar with the issue.

None of those concerns were directly addressed in the city ordinance,
which simply requires medical-marijuana operations to comply with city
codes. Holmes has said further city regulation might be coming this

But the school-zone issue did make it into a preliminary "best
practices" manual drafted by the state chapter of Americans for Safe
Access, a medical-marijuana advocacy group, which recommends
dispensaries stay 500 feet from schools. It also suggests the industry
be a good neighbor, organizing neighborhood cleanups and running
background checks on employees.

Both Durkan's office and King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg also
expressed concerns about garish advertising. Satterberg, in
particular, flagged "naughty nurse" ads in Seattle's alternative weeklies.

In response, most dispensaries stopped running sexually suggestive
ads. But Jing Mo, director of the nonprofit Seattle Cannabis Co-op,
said she continues to run "naughty nurse" ads, and a marijuana price
list, because "they draw people in."

"I haven't received any [cease-and-desist] letters saying they're not
happy with what I'm doing," said Mo, 30. "Until the whole thing is
defined, how to advertise in a certain way or not, everything else is

"Medicine, not a party"

At the training class this week, business attorney Hilary Bricken said
dispensaries must be nonprofit entities and comply with state labor
laws, including paying minimum wage. Because of a change in state law
in July, dispensaries also had to adopt a new business model, based on
newly legal collective gardens.

Jeremy Kaufman, co-founder of The Center for Palliative Care, a
nonprofit dispensary in Seattle's Georgetown, said he is paying
business and sales taxes and unemployment insurance.

"If this multibillion-dollar industry has a chance of coming above
ground, you have to pay taxes," said Kaufman, 30.

Concerns about the quality and consistency of marijuana dispensed to
patients have prompted another self-policing effort.

A group calling itself the Association of Medical Marijuana Producers
and Processors is hoping to open a members-only commercial kitchen
this fall, where cannabis food producers can work in safe, sterile

The group, which includes more than 35 growers, is preparing to
certify that its members' products are free of pesticides and herbicides.

The intent, said organization director Christopher Wright, is to be
the "trademark of safety and quality.

"We're interested in making safest, highest-quality medicine, not a
party," he said. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.