The City of Tacoma began cracking down on the local medical-marijuana trade Wednesday, telling three local pot-related establishments that they must cease all business activity immediately.
The city Finance Department hand-delivered letters to Emerald Pharms, T-Town Alternative Medicine and The Vape Bar, all in South Tacoma.
More letters to other medical-marijuana businesses could follow, said Maria Lee, a city spokeswoman.
“Really, there was nothing that set these three apart, other than that the city needed to start at some point,” Lee said. “We have limited resources and needed to start somewhere. We’re continuing to evaluate facilities that we’re aware of to see how they fit within the enforcement policy.”
After nearly two years of deliberation and a long moratorium, the City Council decided last month to regulate medical marijuana under its nuisance code.
So-called “collective gardens,” which are permitted under state law, will not be bothered in most parts of the city, but “dispensaries” will not be tolerated.
Telling the difference between the two is proving to be the difficult part.
“The real question is what the city expects in the way of collective gardens,” said Tacoma attorney Jay Berneburg. “What we want to know is what is the city’s expectation? I don’t think they know.”
The number of medical marijuana distributors in Tacoma is unknown, but is estimated to be about 40. Berneburg said he represents “close to 30” of them, including Emerald Pharms and T-Town. He said Thursday he’s advising his clients not to cease operations.
Berneburg said they are collective gardens, not dispensaries, and as such do not need business licenses.
“My clients are doing their best to comply with the ordinance as it’s written and as we understand it,” Berneburg said. “We’re going to contest the citation.”
As defined by the state, collective gardens may have up to 10 patients.
“The law doesn’t say how long you need to be a member, and it doesn’t say you can’t belong to two or three collective gardens at the same time,” Berneburg said.
He advises his medical-marijuana clients to insist on a formal sign-in and sign-out procedure, he said, in which they join the collective upon entering and resign when they go out.
The city told Emerald Pharms and T-Town Alternative Medicine they had exhausted their appeal rights. The situation with The Vape Bar was different.
According to the letter, in dealings with the city they described their business as “electronic cigarettes and accessories.” Instead, according to the city, code enforcement officers viewed cannabis plants growing inside the building and observed a strong marijuana odor.
Online advertisements for The Vape Bar say, “Medical patients receive a free joint.”rob.carson@ thenewstribune.com 253-597-8693