After struggling with the issue of medical marijuana dispensaries for two years, Tacoma City Council passed an ordinance on July 31 that will label these businesses as “public nuisances.” The action allows for collective gardens, however, which are defined under the state’s medical marijuana law as places where up to 10 qualified patients in a group can grow up to 45 plants.
This council vote now places medical marijuana dispensaries under the city’s nuisance codes, rather than zoning codes. Last month, the council scrapped a proposal that would have allowed dispensaries to continue operating as long as they complied with a number of zoning regulations.
The council’s decision culminates a long ordeal for the council. In the past two years, one dispensary was raided, license revocation efforts were launched against several more and a moratorium was enacted to halt any more dispensaries from opening. The council sought clarity from the Legislature on the issue and assembled a task force of residents to provide guidance.
Gardens will be allowed as long as they are a specific distance from sensitive areas, which include schools, day cares, youth centers and drug rehabilitation facilities. This distance had been set at 1,000 feet. Earlier in the day the council discussed amendments offered by Councilmembers Joe Lonergan and Marty Campbell. Based on this, the distance was reduced to 600 feet.
Gardens may not post signs advertising marijuana for sale or delivery.
City Attorney Elizabeth Pauli has told the council that under state law, this ordinance will not deny qualified patients’ access to medicine. Patients who grow plants in their homes will not be affected.
“This has been quite an education process,” Lonergan remarked. He said the ordinance passed will allow patients to have safe access to their medicine, but it prohibits retail sales in dispensaries. He said the council had to go this route to keep the city in compliance with state law.
Campbell said this was an issue the council struggled with for some time. He noted that dispensaries in other cities in the state, as well as some in Los Angeles, have recently been raided by law enforcement. He added that reforms are needed in the authorization process that provides a medical provider’s advice to use medical cannabis.
Councilmember David Boe said this is a good interim step, while the city waits for the state and federal governments to provide more clarity on the issue.
Councilmember Victoria Woodards thanked the many dispensary representatives and patients who have testified before the council in recent weeks. “We do want safe access for the clients who need it.”