Where do we go from here?
Q & A with Cannabis attorney Hilary Bricken on the DEA letters, zoning for Cannabis access points and what Tacoma's new ordinance could mean
LEAF: What do you think prompted the DEA
to send out closure letters in Western Washington?
HB: Before the letters were issued I saw a count that showed more access points in Seattle than Starbucks. On a DEA level that's unacceptable. We also knew this was a possibility. If this is happening in Colorado, a state with much tighter regulations and controls on the Cannabis industry, it shouldn't be a surprise that Seattle would be a target without any real regulation.
LEAF: Can one fight this? What do you do?
HB: The short answer is no. These letters normally don't even go to the occupant [access point]. They go to the landlord/property owner. You have to put yourself in the shoes of the property owner. They face federal forfeiture of their property, and it can happen so quickly it's unbelievable.
LEAF: So the Government can take away their property simply because of Cannabis? That's ridiculous. Can the access points move?
HB: Moving will never neutralize the federal threat. It's a bigger risk to move and reopen because they're already on the fed's radar. For some plaÃ‚Âces, moving and reopening could be a death sentence. If they are in compliance with state law, and zoned properly, they will become less of an enforcement priority.
LEAF: But what exactly does "zoned properly" mean? Some places were too close to schools and didn't get one; another place was next door to a strip club and other adult bars/stores, and got one even though those are zoned. Another was shut down for its proximity to the Interurban Trail, a walking and bike path. Where is the line for access points?
HB: We have a strict in-house policy requiring a 1,000 foot buffer from all schools. I think that Jenny Durkan [WA US Attorney] has made it clear that medical Cannabis should not be near school zones and kids. But how do you interpret a school area? To call the trail a school area is ridiculous and arbitrary.
LEAF: Does this mean the fed's can make up any reason they want to shut you down?
HB: Yes, but the big question is why only some access points now? Is it because they can't shut down everyone at once? Or does it mean that they truly only want Cannabis
out of school zones?
LEAF: What is your best advice then?
HB: My first line of advice is always "know your enemy." Read the Controlled Substances Act. And make state law compliance your #1 priority. From there, be prepared to let it go or face federal charges.
LEAF: Do you anticipate more letters?
HB: I would anticipate more, but I don't know.
I wish I knew how the DEA thought.
LEAF: On a local level, Tacoma has issued a new nuisance ordinance that has had a big impact on the city's access points. What does this mean for patients and access there?
HB: Tacoma is a totally different animal than anything we have seen. Under a nuisance ordinance, the law is very discretionary and based on who is being annoyed, by what and with what frequency. It is very discretionary as to how it could be enforced. There are two main issues to the ordinance that have left everyone in suspense: 1) Tacoma has not issued an enforcement policy for the ordinance and 2) We don't know how they will enforce - either civilly or criminally. Until the policy is delivered it's on a wait and watch schedule.
LEAF: What can patients do to show their support and get involved in the fight?
HB: They should pay attention to local city councils and zoning. People live in this state for a reason, vote for a reason. So they need to participate and show up, and get local officials to represent us. Something will break for Cannabis, it just has to be the right way.
Hilary Bricken graduated in 2010 from University of Miami School of Law, then moved to the great Pacific Northwest, where she operates Canna Law Group under Harris & Moure in downtown Seattle. The Canna Law Group provides counsel for the medical Cannabis industry and medical Cannabis patients. Visit www.cannabislawseattle.com