As Washington voters consider radically reshaping the state’s relationship to the drug, a contingent of businesses providing medical marijuana that debuted in recent months across Capitol Hill amid pride in product and compliance with local laws has quickly and quietly wafted away. In the end, all it took were letters from the Drug Enforcement Agency.
“I’ve always expected this,” Cass Stewart of Broadway’stold CHS. “It’s a disappointment but it’s not a surprise.”
Stewart’s Apothecary debuted on Broadway above a Castle sex store and a Subway sandwich shop in March 2011. The dispensary was part of a wave of providers coming to Capitol Hill as shops sought out turf in the city’s loosening medical marijuana environment even as the federal stance on the drug remain mostly unaltered.
That federal vs. local tension busted late last month as the DEA notified dispensaries across the city that it was coming for them. The letter warned that dispensaries must be at least 1,000 feet from schools, parks and other fuzzily defined entities, people familiar with the warnings said. The Apothecary was told it had 30 days to comply — even though Stewart says the DEA never told him what, exactly, his dispensary is too close to.
Stewart tells CHS his only choice has been to close down the active dispensary on Broadway and try to sort out what comes next — if anything — for the Apothecary Seattle business.
“We want to try find a way to serve our patients,” Stewart said.
Meanwhile, CHS is told the people behind 10th Ave’s BOTH’s April 2011 debut in Pike/Pine here.have also received the dreaded DEA letter and have decided to cease operations. Messages to BOTH have not been returned. We reported on
We visited with both the Apothecary’s Stewart and BOTH’s Corey Bessette this spring to find out how the dispensaries had fared in their first year on the Hill and what was ahead:
Make no mistake — Capitol Hill’s remaining dispensaries are operated as non-profits and take on clinical terms like “medicine” and calling customers “patients,” but they are also operated as businesses with bottom lines and situations familiar to any entrepreneur.
“We’ve grown,” Bessette said. “We’ve hired on five different people in the last year.” Bessette says the typical BOTH member might spend around $80 a week on cannabis and that they currently see around 50 people a day come through their lower level 10th Ave facility.
“We’re the new gay,” Stewart said of pot-smoking acceptance at the time. ”It’s like coming out. It’s a big moment for people.”
The providers told CHS of more and more signs of acceptance and change in the city. To purchase marijuana, members must have an authorization card from a provider certifying the holder has “qualifying conditions” as laid out in RCW 69.51a. The dispensary operators reported an increase in the number of authorizations from primary care providers and big health care facilities. We also reported that the price of marijuana on the Hill had plummeted more than 15% from spring 2011.
For all the progress, the past year also brought setbacks including federal raids last Fall and guilty pleas by Seattle dispensary owners on federal drug trafficking charges earlier this summer. The busts make problems faced by Capitol Hill dispensaries — this concern was shuffled along because of the odor, reportedly — seem quaint.
What is next for people who have become accustomed to getting their marijuana from Capitol Hill’s dispensaries is not clear. Stewart said it is likely some will return to buying the drug on the street. He did not want to speculate what effect November’s vote on I-502 could have on Seattle’s existing dispensaries. If approved, the initiative will pave the way for the state to license — and tax — the sale of marijuana. Approved stores would be allowed to sell customers 21 and older 1 oz. of marijuana, marijuana-infused product in solid form by the pound, or up to 2 liters of marijuana-infused beverages.
Meanwhile, not all is lost for the people behind the dispensaries that have closed after receiving the DEA letters. Some entrepreneurs have used the time to establish new products while others learned the ropes of keeping a medical marijuana service operating in a safe, secure and neighbor-friendly manner. There’s the possibility that Apothecary, BOTH and the like will live on with shifting services and roles within the medical marijuana community. Changes in the state’s treatment of the drug on a personal level may change soon. Still, the episode with the DEA will also likely encourage anybody involved in the industry to maintain a light, nimble operation. The only guarantee is change.
Stewart said the federal intervention is a reminder that Washington D.C. continues to take an agressive stance against marijuana even as local laws shift.
“It’s a bit of a frustrating thing,” Stewart said. “Seattle has really been out front in trying to be compliant.”