Crackdown on medical pot dispensaries begins -- and so, too, does the backlash

SEATTLE -- The long-expected crackdown on medical pot dispensaries has begun.

This week King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced he’s giving these operations just one month to start winding down -- or risk having their product seized and their stores closed.

“The only legal way to sell marijuana is to have a state-issued license,” said Satterberg.

The crackdown directly affects 15 dispensaries in unincorporated King County, but it’s the start of a yearlong squeeze on medical pot establishments across Washington.  A new state law requires that all dispensaries be closed by next July.

Medical pot dispensaries have been around for years, though they’ve never had official legal standing.  Mostly, they’ve simply been tolerated by law enforcement.

But since pot became legal in 2012, dispensaries have been in the cross-hairs.  That’s because they are seen as undermining the new recreational market by selling untaxed and unregulated product.

In fact, just recently state lawmakers put the final nail in the coffin of the existing medical pot market.  Within a year all dispensaries will have to get state pot licenses – just like the new recreational stores.

Because of that, Satterberg says he will no longer turn the other way.

“There is no more tolerance for illegal, unlicensed marijuana stores,” he said.  “If you support legal marijuana, you should support the licensed stores and you should not support the illegal black market retail stores that are everywhere.”

There’s been a lot of pushback to Satterberg’s hard stance.

Those who rely on dispensaries are worried about getting rid of the existing medical pot system.

“Where do patients go now?" asked Kyle Worthington, a medical marijuana patient.  “They are starting to close dispensaries, so, in turn, the patients have to turn to the black market or they have to go to a recreational 502 store.”

He said the recreational stores charge a heavy 37% tax and don’t offer the same selection that gears to patient needs.