WASHINGTON: On Monday afternoon, the Seattle City Council will vote on new zoning rules “to establish locational restrictions on the production, processing, selling, or delivery of marijuana, to modify the definition of food processing, and to modify existing allowances for agricultural uses in certain industrial areas.”
As you’ll read below, the proposed rules will have a major impact on I-502 businesses in Seattle as well as current medical marijuana operations.
I heard Ryan Agnew, an attorney and advocate for legal marijuana, at a meetup for marijuana entrepreneurs last night in Seattle and thought it would be great to share his thoughts on the city’s zoning proposals. Agnew is the co-founder of C Squared Public Affairs, which currently focuses on I-502 regulatory compliance and government relations.
Here’s his guest post:
The words “landmark” and “zoning” don’t usually go hand in hand, but to be sure the Seattle City Council vote this Monday will have significant ramifications for the future of recreational and medicinal marijuana in Washington State.
The vote concerns a proposed zoning ordinance that sets limits on the sizes & permitted areas of marijuana related operations. In effect, the vote also sets a benchmark for other cities looking to create or modify their own zoning rules. The future of decriminalized marijuana will hinge on what Council decides to do on Monday.
The big picture
Anyone looking to start a new business under I-502 is probably aware that most cities and counties in Western Washington have adopted temporary moratoriums that ban cannabis in all its forms. Other municipalities are waiting for Seattle and the State to finalize their rules.
If Seattle opts to severely restrict the areas to do business, other cities will take that as a sign that they can prohibit legitimate businesses without any repercussion from voters. Lawsuits attempting to remove the moratoriums will only result in delayed implementation at best, or set a dangerous precedent if upheld on appeal.
The right way forward is strong leadership from our elected officials.
If the most progressive city in the state, if not the country, can’t adopt rules to help decriminalized cannabis succeed, other cities won’t bother. Initiative 502 might be dead on arrival, and we can point to a lack of vision and disrespect for the will of the voters as the reason why.
Note on Tacoma proposed rules (To see the proposal you have to dig a little starting with the council agenda pdf link, since we can’t provide a direct link to the proposal): Tacoma just announced that they welcome I-502 businesses and that their Port and Industrial areas are perfect places to operate. Resolution #38743 sets the public hearing in Tacoma on Oct 22nd.
What’s at issue for Seattle business
If you’re looking to start a business under Initiative 502 in Seattle, you will have to comply with the comprehensive set of new rules that State Liquor Control Board (LCB) has put in place to tax and regulate recreational cannabis.
You will also need to make sure that you get a license from the City to open up shop.
The possibility exists that you could get a license from the LCB, but if you’re in the wrong part of town, you’ll never get to open your doors. Futhermore, if you’re looking to maintain a medical marijuana (MMJ) business or currently hold an authorization to purchase medicinal cannabis, you will also be affected by the new zoning rules.
What the Port of Seattle has to do with it
As written, the ordinance seeks to severely limit the places in which you can do business or purchase cannabis products. Additionally, there are five amendments to the bill that address scope, location, MMJ operations, and the timeline for compliance with local code and state laws that address cannabis under RCW Title 69.
Residential areas are totally out, and rightfully so. Also, per state rules, all businesses are prohibited from being within 1000ft in any direction from a school, park, childcare center, arcade, public transit facility, or playground. The buffer area leaves few options remaining to site retail or production/processing facilities. What areas remain will be left to the Council to decide.
Championing the cause for sensible zoning is Councilmember Bruce Harrell, who sponsored an amendment to allow operations in the industrial parts of town. You might be thinking, isn’t industrial the perfect place for secured warehouse grows and retail shops?
The answer is a clear “Yes” but the Port of Seattle has come out against the idea despite the fact that many warehouses and retail spaces currently sit empty.
The Port, still reeling from a lost battle involving a new sports arena, views the new law as a threat to their clout in that part of town. Their chief lobbyist has managed to persuade some on the Council that the Port should get to pick and chose which businesses are worthy of operating on their turf.