Medical marijuana hits snag in Bellevue

Seth Simpson, co-owner of Seattle
Seth Simpson, co-owner of Seattle's medicinal marijuana dispensary, Green Tree Medical, hopes to open an Eastside location in downtown Bellevue, but has hit a road block in the city's zoning.
— image credit: Celina Kareiva

When David Ahl opened Green Tree Medical two years ago in Lake City, the business was an almost instant success. People came from as far as the Eastside to the medicinal marijuana collective. After several years, Ahl and his business partner, Seth Simpson, thought it an obvious next step to expand their market.

Last year they applied for a business permit and began looking for locations in Bellevue, buoyed by Eastsider support for I-502.

Now, the pair is complaining of a “marijuana moratorium” on the part of the city. An exhaustive permitting process and the uncharted waters of medicinal marijuana on the Eastside have all but stalled their business plans.

“There was nobody over here,” says Simpson. “Really this area needs a patient-to-patient network; it needs the ability to get their medicine, instead of having to travel all the way to Seattle.”

In spring of 2012, the company filed for a Bellevue business license at 12819 SE 38th St. near Factoria mall. It was granted. Later that year, in December, the company signed the lease at 10600 Main Street in downtown and requested that a modification be made to the business license. That request was denied.

Now Ahl and Simpson, who say they should have opened Greenside Medical in January, are fighting “tooth-and-nail” to see their business plans through. The city meanwhile claims that medicinal marijuana facilities are prohibited under the multiple-land-use district of downtown Bellevue.

Interim ordinance 6058, adopted last May, allows medicinal gardens only in areas zoned light industrial, general commercial and medical institution, and prohibits them within 1,000 feet of schools and churches. Around the same time, councilmembers directed legal staff to develop a more permanent regulation for medical marijuana.

Greenside Medical's planned location is in an unassuming building. Recently, a fresh coat of white paint was applied. The floors were redone, and windows and doors added. Ahl says he wants to maintain a professional image and renovations help toward that. In Seattle, its customer base is largely patients aged 45 to 60, all of whom are required to have authorization.

Greenside Medical had originally planned to operate a private patient-to-patient network for medicinal marijuana, selling herbal remedies and some miscellaneous goods. Though Ahl says the facilities would not include a collective garden on the Eastside, letters from the city attorney claim that collective gardens include delivery facilities, not just “the ground in which the cannabis is grown.”

“Given the [land use code’s] broad prohibitory language, any land use at the Main Street location that involves the cultivation, production, delivery or sale of medical cannabis is prohibited,” writes the office of the city attorney, in a letter addressing Greenside Medical.

But Kurt Boehl, attorney for Greenside Medical, says just because medicinal marijuana is not directly addressed in the city’s Downtown-MU Land Use district, is not grounds to arbitrarily prohibit it.

Simpson stands in the space he hopes eventually will be Greenside Medical’s bud room. A strip of glass shelves has been installed, but for the most part the space is barren. Simpson and Ahl plan to continue fighting the city, though they admit its a costly battle. In the meantime, the pair hopes to open as a retail space for grow-op equipment, allowing them to hold onto the location and recoup some of the money lost in their stalled plans.

Boehl says that in Seattle alone, his clients’ business brought in $400,000 in tax revenue. He expects that number to double for the Eastside, and hopes the city will recognize the potential for profit.

In December, ex-Microsoft manager Jamen Shively announced plans to open a storefront for premium grade pot following the passage of I-502. Ahl and Simpson point to his story, and the number of Bellevue residents who voted in favor of legalization. The tide, they say, is changing.

“The writing is on the wall with I-502 and legalization,” says Boehl. “Why not grab the bull by its horns and address it.”


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