As Pierce County Says NO To Marijuana Businesses, Tacoma City Council Discuss How To Welcome More

Emerald Leaves, a retail marijuana store located at 2702 6th Ave, Tacoma.

MJNN EXCLUSIVE REPORT
By Aaron Ball

WASHINGTON: Just hours after Pierce County residents voted No on 1 – a measure that would have allowed legal marijuana production and sales in the unincorporated county — the Tacoma City Council convened to reconsider its cannabis policy.  The Council held a public hearing Tuesday evening to receive input about recommended amendments to its pot regulations, including modifications to Tacoma Municipal Code (TMC) Title 13 Land Use Regulatory Code and to the nuisance regulations contained in TMC Title 8 Public Safety.

In response to merging of Washington’s unregulated medical marijuana industry into I-502, and an increase in the number of Retail Licenses allotted for Tacoma by the State Liquor and Cannabis Board (LCB), Tacoma Planning and Development Services manager Brian Boudet presented recommended amendments to the regulations that govern legal cannabis within city limits.  The LCB recently doubled the cap on Tacoma retail stores, from 8 to 16.  Under the current Tacoma zoning regulations, there is very little compliant space left to accommodate the increase in retail outlets.

To solve the dilemma, the planning commission recommends that the buffer for sensitive areas such as parks, libraries and arcades be reduced from 1,000ft to 500ft and transit centers be reduced to 100ft.  The 1000ft buffer from schools and playgrounds would remain.  Mr Boudet stated that it was important to maintain “equitable distribution” to ensure “that the entire community is served” while controlling against “high concentrations of retail stores.”

Staff and Planning Commission recommendations are very close on these recommendations; where they differ is the Planning Commission is recommending no buffer between retail locations while staff is recommending a 500-ft buffer downtown and 1000-ft elsewhere.

Mayor Marilyn Strickland expressed a concern for the 30 or so medical stores operating within the city limits. “The city council has always had an open minded attitude about respecting the will of the voters,” she said.  But, she bemoaned the fact that local government is still waiting “for the state to do its job and offer the guidelines” for implementing legal cannabis.   In the meantime, the council  “looked the other way,” she admits, and allowed for “many business that are open now, who wont be when these rules are put into place.”

The Mayor emphasized the importance of ensuring that “there is a place and an opportunity for those who did the right thing and played by the rules” to be able to open, while making sure that those who are operating illegally get closed down.  She concluded by saying that in the end “we are trying to normalize the market.”

There were competing views regarding limiting the number of pot shops in the city. Staff recommends that the city impose a local cap of 16 retail locations, the current cap imposed by the LCB.  The Planning Commission recommends that there be no local cap at all.  Proponents of a local cap being implemented argue that in just short of a year the LCB doubled the allotted stores for Tacoma.  If the state were to increase this allotment again staff wants the City Council to be able to revisit the new number before applications begin flooding in.  Councilman Thoms thought a cap, at least in the short term, was a good idea. “We saw in increase from 8 to 16 without having a say.”

Almost all of the public testimony was from individuals related to the cannabis industry and although some of the details varied the general message was a plea for the council to relieve some of the stifling land use regulations.  The only voice in opposition to lessening regulations was the owner of an Alzheimer assisted living home, who said that the marijuana store on the corner “changed the complexion” of the neighborhood and brought “gang activity.”

The City Council will have a study group on these proposed amendments on May 3rd and will have a first reading on May 10th.

 

  Existing Regulations Staff Recommendations Planning Commission Recommendations
Cap on Retail Stores No max cap on stores in the city Cap at 16 (Current state cap) No Local Cap
Buffers for Retail Stores
  • 1000ft for schools and play grounds
  • 1000ft for other sensitive uses (parks, arcades, libraries, etc)
  • 1000ft for schools and play grounds
  • 100ft for transit centers citywide
  • 500ft for sensitive uses within Downtown
  • 1000ft for other sensitive uses elsewhere
  • 1000ft for schools and play grounds
  • 100ft for transit centers citywide
500ft for sensitive uses citywide
Dispersion between stores Not required
  • 500ft for  Downtown
  • 1000 ft for other sensitive uses  elsewhere

 

Not required
Medical Endorsement Not currently addressed 50% of retail stores will be required to have State Medical Endorsement 100% of retail stores will be required to have State Medical Endorsement
Medical Cooperatives Not currently addressed Allow Cooperatives, with Standard State buffers:

  • 1 mile from retailers
  • 1000ft from sensitive uses
Allow Cooperatives, with reduced buffers:

  • 1 mile from retailers
  • 1000ft from Schools and playgrounds
  • 100ft from other sensitive uses

 

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