When Laws Collide
5:34 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

Medical Marijuana Providers Challenge Seattle Licensing In Court

Medical marijuana providers are challenging Seattle’s licensing rules in court. They say having to obtain business licenses forces them to incriminate themselves under federal law.

Last year, the Seattle City Council passed an ordinance requiring medical marijuana providers to get business licenses. Criminal defense attorney Douglas Hiatt warned that anyone who complied would be more vulnerable to federal prosecution.

Under state law, medical marijuana is legal, and recreational use of marijuana just became legal under Initiative 502. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

Hiatt sued the city of Seattle on behalf of unnamed medical marijuana providers. His lawsuit says marijuana dispensaries should be exempt from city licensing. Friday a King County judge will consider summary judgment motions from Hiatt and the city of Seattle.

University of Washington law professor Mary Fan said Hiatt seems to argue that these businesses should “have their cake and eat it too.” They want to continue operating without the licensing requirements other businesses face. “Reading the briefing in this case, they sort of say that it’s the city that’s making them be in conflict with federal law,” Fan said. “And of course that’s not exactly the case. It’s the growers’ actions that are in conflict with federal law.”

But she said there seem to be some facts in dispute, which could be grounds for letting the case go forward. Hiatt says applicants for city licenses are forced to disclose that they are operating a marijuana-related business. Attorneys for the city of Seattle respond that the licensing requirements are general for all businesses and do not require applicants to make those disclosures.

Hiatt is a longtime advocate for marijuana legalization. So it’s a strange twist that his legal argument resembles the one federal officials may use if they challenge I-502. That’s the argument that federal law trumps state law.