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

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

 

Illegal Pot Shops Need Rooting Out In Pierce County

WASHINGTON:  Wonder of wonders: King County, epicenter of the state’s drug culture, has begun cracking down on illegal marijuana dispensaries.

Pierce County? It’s still doing next to nothing about them – even as it prohibits legal marijuana stores.

King County’s prosecutor, Dan Satterberg, and sheriff, John Urquhart, have put two and two together: Now that the state has more than 150 licensed marijuana retailers (with more on the way), it might just be time to start shuttering the hundreds of storefronts and delivery services that have been operating outside the law.

“The law is now clear,” said Satterberg earlier this month. “The only way to sell marijuana is with a state-issued license. It’s binary.”

 

Bonney Lake Marijuana Ban Challenged

WASHINGTON:  Bonney Lake’s ban on recreational marijuana businesses has spurred two lawsuits, filed in Pierce County Superior Court recently, that seek to overturn the city ordinance adopted early this year.

One complaint claims the city’s moratorium and subsequent prohibition on pot retailers, producers and processors are unconstitutional.

The other suit contends the decision to ban pot businesses in the plateau city of more than 18,000 people was based, in part, on “a hearing that was conducted unconstitutionally.” It states a councilman prematurely stopped the attorney of a prospective marijuana retailer from speaking prior to the vote.

Councilman Dan Swatman says he followed proper procedure for public comment. He said the city is confident a judge will uphold its ban. 

 

Legal Standoff Over Pot Store

WASHINGTON:  With all the complications that local bans have caused for Washington’s recreational pot market, two state-licensed businessmen have decided to take matters into their own hands in south Pierce County.

Tedd Wetherbee and Mike Henery own the Gallery, a pot shop-art gallery mashup that celebrated its grand opening in Parkland on March 1. Media attention hasn’t focused on the thousands of dollars in artwork that adorns the Soho-style space, but rather the business’s dubious legality.

The Gallery is the first state-licensed recreational marijuana outlet to open in a county that outlaws recreational marijuana. The two owners say their actions are not a jab at the county, but rather a response to something larger.

“This is two licensed businessmen exerting their right to operate,” Wetherbee said. “We got a license from the state. The state went through our backgrounds with a microscope and said, ‘You guys qualify, go do this.’ And so we’re doing this.”

New Pot Shop Opens Despite Pierce County Ban

WASHINGTON:  A new pot shop in Pierce County is testing the limits of the law. The retail marijuana store is opening despite a county ban on retail marijuana sales.

While Pierce County may not have signed off on this business, the owners said the state has, and that’s enough for them.

Sunday was opening day at The Gallery in Parkland, an art gallery that happens to sell marijuana.

The Gallery owners received its state license on Friday and after getting a shipment of product Sunday morning, doors opened just after noon.

 

Judge Upholds Pierce County’s Retail Pot Ban

WASHINGTON:  Pierce County’s ban on retail marijuana shops survived a court challenge Monday, but an appeal to higher courts looms as the statewide weed wars continue.

Superior Court Judge Ronald Culpepper sided with lawyers for Pierce County and the state, echoing a ruling he made earlier this year tied to a similar ban in the city of Fife. Statewide, it’s the fifth court ruling since August upholding bans by local governments.

“The county’s ban does not conflict with 502,” Culpepper said, referring to the statewide initiative approved by voters in 2012 that created a regulatory system for the sale and purchase of recreational marijuana.

Attorneys for a group of licensed marijuana retailers and the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the county’s ban conflicts with the provisions of I-502. The ban, passed by the county council in 2013, cites federal law and prohibits retail marijuana licensing in the county until federal authorities remove marijuana from a list of illegal controlled substances.

Puyallup Bans Recreational Pot Businesses, But Stops Short Of Including Medical Cannabis

WASHINGTON:  Puyallup has become one of the biggest cities in Pierce County to ban marijuana businesses.

The Puyallup City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to prohibit all recreational marijuana producers, processors and retailers. But the council stopped short of banning medical marijuana shops and collective gardens after overwhelming opposition from patients.

Mayor John Knutsen and council members John Palmer, Heather Shadko, Steve Vermillion and Tom Swanson supported it. Council members John Hopkins and Julie Door voted against the proposal.

The regulations come just before a Dec. 31 expiration of a moratorium that was extended several times over the last 16 months.

The delay was intended to give city officials time for research and deliberation about Initiative 502, which voters approved in 2012 to create a regulatory system for recreational marijuana. Conflicting pot laws and concerns about I-502’s lack of revenue-sharing with local governments prompted the proposed ban.

Puyallup City Council Will Vote Tuesday On Proposed Ban On Marijuana Businesses

WASHINGTON:  Puyallup leaders are finally set to act on regulations for retail marijuana businesses this week after months considering the city’s options.

The Puyallup City Council plans to vote on a proposed ban on marijuana retailers, producers and processors at its regular meeting Tuesday night. Puyallup is the largest city in Pierce County that has yet to decide how – if at all – to implement state Initiative 502, approved by Washington voters more than two years ago.

A ban on pot operations in the city of more than 37,000 people would conflict with a recommendation from the city’s planning commission early this year.

The course change is intended as a stop-gap solution until some unanswered questions are addressed in the state’s new marijuana market.

 

No-Pot City Takes Aim At Washington Marijuana Law

WASHINGTON:  To Tedd Wetherbee, the vacant storefront seems a suitable spot for selling pot. It’s in a strip mall across from BJ’s Bingo parlor, in a long commercial stretch occupied by fast-food joints, dry cleaners and massage parlors.

But like dozens of other cities in Washington, the small Tacoma suburb of Fife doesn’t want Wetherbee — or anyone else — opening marijuana businesses, even if state law allows it. The arguments officials are making in a lawsuit over the dispute threaten to derail Washington’s big experiment in legal, taxed cannabis less than two months after sales began.

A Pierce County judge on Friday is scheduled to hear arguments on two key issues at the core of Wetherbee’s legal challenge to the ban. The first is whether Washington’s voter-approved marijuana measure, Initiative 502, leaves room for cities to ban licensed pot growers, processors or sellers. If the answer is no, Fife wants the judge to address a second question: Should Washington’s entire legal marijuana scheme be thrown out as incompatible with the federal prohibition on pot?

“It’s challenging the state’s ability to create a legal and controlled market,” said Alison Holcomb, the American Civil Liberties Union of Washington lawyer who drafted the law. “They’re saying, ‘We’ll just take the entire regulatory system down.’ “

 

Pacific Ponders Ordinances On Marijuana Businesses

WASHINGTON:  The Pacific City Council on July 9 heard what residents had to say about a trio of possible City ordinances that would regulate recreational and medical marijuana businesses within city limits.

As proposed, the ordinances would lay down requirements for any recreational marijuana businesses in the community, including retail, processing and production facilities, and potentially ban medical marijuana businesses.

The first of the ordinances under consideration would add chapter 5.12 to the Pacific Municipal Code, laying out the regulations for licensing recreational businesses in the city, including penalties for violating the proposed code.

The ordinance would work hand-in-hand with the already established Washington State Liquor Control Board‘s rules for recreational marijuana businesses and specify where a business could be located. It directs that businesses be located at least 1,000 feet away from schools, playgrounds, recreational centers, child cares, public parks, public transit centers, libraries or game arcades. It would ban processors, producers or retail recreational pot businesses everywhere except in light industrially-zoned areas in the Pierce County portion of the city.