How Close Is Too Close? Tacoma City Council Fine Tunes Cannabis Retail Policy

"there are two things we know for sure:  There is a strong demand for this product and that it is lucrative."

By Aaron Ball

WASHINGTON:  The Tacoma City council formed a study group this week to discuss how best to proceed with ending the moratorium on Legal Cannabis Retail stores within the city limits. 

After considering the testimony of Tacoma residents at the public hearing on April 26, 2016, Tacoma Planning and Development Services manager Brian Boudet presented a final recommendation for the city councils consideration.   The new recommendations are:

Cap on retail stores

  • Cap at 16 (the current state limit)

Buffers

  • 1,000 feet for schools and playgrounds
  • 100 feet for transit centers
  • 500 feet for other sensitive uses

Dispersion

  • 1,000 feet between stores city wide

Medical Endorsement

  • Required of all stores
  • Allowed based on State Standards.

 

Mayor Marilyn Strickland began the session by stating “There are two things we know for sure:  that is there is a strong demand for this product, whether it is recreational or medical, and that it is lucrative.”

The Mayor then went on to say that normally she would lean towards letting the market decide with out a cap, but considering there could be “up to 60 locations operating in the unregulated market” she felt the cap should remain with the option to lift it at anytime in the future.  Everyone was in agreement on capping the retail stores for the time being at 16 citing a need to maintain local control over the market as it develops.

Dispersion was the only issue to cause real debate and is also the issue that could have the most devastating effect on the stores that are waiting on this decision before they open their doors.  The Planning Commission originally recommended that there be no dispersion requirements on retail locations and the staff recommended 500 ft between stores downtown and 1000 ft for stores elsewhere in the city.

Mr. Boudet stated that the recommendation of 1000-ft being presented today was decided upon after considering mixed public opinion about the issue.  Three of the 5 stores that have licenses and locations are awaiting the city councils decision and will  have to find new locations if the dispersion rule were to be enacted.  The irony is that some of these locations were open and operating first under the laws and regulations for their industry at the time.  Council member Marty Campbell commented that “dispersion in retail, what I hear is government sponsored monopoly.” Councilman Campbell admitted that dispersion is a form of regulation used in many instances, but never in a  retail market.

Council member Robert Thom countered by comparing cannabis dispersion to liquor store dispersion saying “this isn’t a new concept.”  He reminded the council of the multitudes of citizens and business owners from the 6th district who requested dispersion rules two years ago.  Council member Joe Lonergan suggested that dispersion would be a viable way to make sure that new stores providing medical cannabis were located further out from major population hubs to better serve patients who had difficulty traveling into the city.

Mayor Strickland responded that many of the people who were worried about legal cannabis 2 years ago “aren’t coming around anymore.”  She suggested that after two years people have realized “it isn’t the big boogie man they thought it would be,” and these businesses “didn’t have  a detrimental effect on my neighborhood.”

Mayor Strickland went on to assure every one that the restrictions and caps will loosen and more businesses will allow to operate, but the priority for her is closing down the illegal stores operating within the city and maintain positive control in the market as it goes through those growing pains.

According to Front Runner Data, since the implementation of Initiative 502 the 9 recreational stores have seen a combined gross revenue of $31,444,926.98 and with an estimated 30 dispensaries being replaced by 7 more stores who knows how far much that can grow.

Mr. Boudet will take these comments and questions back to the Planning Committee and formulate the final draft for the first reading, scheduled May 3, 2016.

 

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