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Justice Department has options to crack down, but may galvanize the push for even wider legalization

In statements that were perhaps inevitable but nonetheless surprising to the cannabis industry, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer on February 23, 2017, provided the first official comments on how the Trump administration may address recreational marijuana.

Responding to a question from an Arkansas reporter regarding medical marijuana, Spicer indicated that the Trump administration sees “a big difference” between medical and recreational marijuana, stating that federal law needs to be followed “when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature.”

Spicer also indicated that enforcement decisions will primarily be a Department of Justice (“DOJ”) matter, stating that enforcement is “a question for the Department of Justice,” but that he believed there would be “greater enforcement of [federal law], because again, there’s a big difference between medical use, which Congress has, through an appropriations rider in 2014, made very clear what their intent was on how the Department of Justice would handle that issue,” which, Spicer stated, is “very different from the recreational use, which is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into.”

Although Spicer’s statements should probably not be considered as the Trump administration’s definitive policy statement on recreational marijuana use, they do raise a variety of concerns for cannabis businesses.

In a long-awaited decision released this morning, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration announced that it has denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act (the “CSA”). The DEA concluded that marijuana should remain a Schedule I controlled substance because it does not meet the criteria for currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; there is a lack of accepted safety for use of marijuana under medical supervision and it has a high potential for abuse.  The DEA’s decision relies on a scientific and medical evaluation and scheduling recommendation from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”), based on studies conducted by the United States Food and Drug Administration and National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”).

The Metropolitan King County Council voted on July 25th to end the moratorium on accepting or issuing permits for marijuana growers, processors, and retailers in unincorporated areas of the county. Additionally, per the council’s news release, legislation was approved which:

  • Limits growing, production, and processing facilities in the rural areas to zones with lots of 10 acres or larger.
  • Because Vashon has its own land-use restrictions, it is exempt from the rural limits.
  • Approves studies on potential retail and processing in specific locations.
  • Requires the County Executive to identify 10 new retail stores in neighborhood business zones.
  • Requires separation between retailers (1,000 feet) in areas where multiple shops already exist.

Washington law regulates the buffer zone requirements for licensed marijuana premises and their proximity to locations of sensitive use, namely, elementary or secondary schools; playgrounds; recreational centers or facilities; child care centers; public parks; public transit centers; libraries; or game arcades admitting minors. RCW 69.50.331(8). Washington state law though does not regulate the distance of licensed marijuana premises from one another. Therefore, the now-required 1,000 foot between retail stores is more restrictive than mandated at the state level. For an interesting read regarding the discretion of cities, counties, and towns to control such distance requirements, please see our previous blog post.

Interestingly, in The Seattle Times' coverage story, it was reported that “the state has allocated 22 additional retail stores to the unincorporated areas. The state has issued 23 producer, or farming, licenses in unincorporated King County. In contrast, 22 have been licensed in Seattle and eight in other King County cities.”

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Since its founding in 1966, Garvey Schubert Barer has counseled clients across a broad range of industry sectors. Our attorneys have deep bench experience and significant expertise in both complex legal and business matters. We value innovation and entrepreneurship, and closely monitor industry trends. It is with these values in mind that our firm established the cannabis industry group. Read More ›

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