In Puyallup, licensed pot loses and illegal pot wins

It’s a trick to make two big mistakes on a single vote, but the Puyallup City Council pulled it off last week.

Its members got things precisely backwards Tuesday when they voted to prohibit legal, licensed and regulated marijuana retailers – while tolerating illegal, unlicensed and unregulated “medical” marijuana dispensaries.

If they didn’t like the idea of marijuana sales in Puyallup, they could have banned both legal retailers and black market dispensaries. If they wanted to keep pot sales controlled and supervised – as envisioned by Initiative 502 – they could have allowed the state-approved retailers and cracked down on the dispensaries.

But the council did the exact opposite, forbidding the legal and allowing the illegal.

Naivete is the only excuse we can imagine. Improbable as it seems, the City Council members might be among the handful of people left in this state who haven’t figured out that most “medical” marijuana sales are about getting high, not getting healthy.

In public hearings, the dispensary industry can always trot out some genuinely afflicted people who are genuinely benefited by marijuana. They do exist. Easily stampeded local officials fold in the face of accusations that they are withholding medicine from victims of terminal cancer and excruciating pain.

The problem is that severely ill patients are not the typical clientele of the typical dispensary. Washington law is so lax that any healthy twenty-something can gin up a sore elbow and buy a so-called green card from a quack whose practice consists largely of selling marijuana authorization papers to all comers.

In some parts of the Puget Sound region, dispensaries – which sell only one drug – far outnumber pharmacies, which sell the full range of prescription drugs. Seattle, the worst case, has more than 300 “medical” outfits. Does anyone seriously believe that those hundreds of dispensaries are serving only people with grave illnesses? Can we please cut the crap about all their customers being “patients”?

The best argument for a big, booming, bogus dispensary industry is that it satisfies an appetite, sort of like brothels, without involving an exceptional number of hoodlums. But with I-502, Washington now has an alternative: licensed shops where background-checked people sell inspected, taxed marijuana under tight state supervision.

The licensed model is exactly what the Puyallup City Council has now prohibited. Instead it will continue to tolerate black market dispensaries, of which there appear to be at least two inside city limits and who knows how many more on the way.

Puyallup is not alone in this curious choice of winners and losers. The Pierce County Council has also banned legal retailers while doing nothing obvious to shut down the illegal ones within its jurisdiction. Politically, this is the path of least resistance: You don’t take a “pro-marijuana” vote, but you also don’t rile up sizeable numbers of dope-smoking voters by shutting down their local pseudo-pharmacies.

The Legislature will have to impose some rationality on the market. It ducked the issue this year, but further delay will just about guarantee that licensed stores will be choked out by dispensaries – dispensaries abetted by local officials who want us to think they oppose marijuana dealing.