Friday, June 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

County, cities block pot industry until rules are ready

Pierce County Council has unanimously voted to delay the start of the marijuana market until state licensing rules are set and the county adopts permanent zoning regulations.

Tacoma has been on the vanguard of the issue since its formation of the City of Tacoma Medical Cannabis Task Force, which was meant to draft rules concerning zoning and sales of marijuana and cannabis products.

Fife City Council followed suit with a moratorium this week. The moratorium on medical marijuana collective gardens in Fife was set to expire later this month, except that the City Council passed an ordinance July 9 that extends the moratorium to January.

At issue is how the state will regulate the growing and sale of marijuana for recreational use following last fall’s approval of Initiative 502, which creates a framework for the licensing, production and sale of recreational marijuana. The state Liquor Control Board is expected to release rules governing the process later this year. The moratoria were declared to allow time for local governments to consider whether additional regulations will be needed.

"Like other local communities around the state, we need to act now to ensure that the marijuana industry doesn't get started before we have the opportunity to consider its impacts on our citizens," said County Councilmember Doug Richardson.

The county’s action puts marijuana-related activities on hold for six months. During that time, a working group of representatives from five areas of county government – the Council, Executive's Office, Sheriff's Department, Prosecutor's Office, and Planning and Land Services – will work on draft regulations for the County Council's consideration this fall. One big issue facing local governments is the fact that the federal government considers marijuana a controlled substance. That creates a clash between federal and local law enforcement agencies.

“We did receive a copy of a letter the feds sent to Clark County indicating that marijuana was still illegal,” Richardson said.

How the state and local governments will navigate the legal waters around that designation remains unclear.

"There are a lot of unanswered questions. This temporary delay gives us time to study our options for local regulations," said County Councilmember Jim McCune.

Without official word from the federal government on that legal question, the Washington State Liquor Control Board has approved the proposed rules that, if ultimately enacted, would help govern Washington State’s system of producing, processing and retailing recreational marijuana. The 42-page, single-spaced rules detail the requirements for participating in Washington’s system.

“Public safety is our top priority,” said Board Chair Sharon Foster. “These rules fulfill the public expectation of creating a tightly-regulated and controlled system while providing reasonable access to participation in the market.”

The foundation for the rule-making began soon after the passage of I-502. The board held eight public forums statewide that drew more than 3,000 attendees. Eleven internal teams performed staff work ranging from research to policy recommendations, and individual board members and staff presented at dozens of public and trade events.

“While the overall response to our initial draft was quite positive,” continued Foster, “we received quality input from local governments, law enforcement, industry members, the prevention community and many others that we incorporated and further improved the rules.”

Public hearings on the proposed rules are being scheduled in four locations across Washington later this summer.

An interesting twist with the moratoria is that legal medical marijuana growers are finding themselves hampered by the legal unknowns created by the “recreational use” initiative.

“They are throwing medical marijuana under the bus,” medical marijuana activist Cat Jeter said. “Did they really have to paint with such a broad brush?”

Patients with medical conditions ranging from chronic pain, digestive and stress ailments who qualify for a marijuana prescription are being lumped into the recreational-use discussions about legality even though that issue has largely been decided. Medical marijuana use is already regulated and operational, but has to now wait for the various levels of government to decide the drug’s recreational use.

Key Public Safety Elements Under Review

Public safety is the top priority of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.

• All grows must meet strictly controlled on-site security requirements;

• Strict surveillance and transportation requirements;

• Robust traceability software system that will track inventory from start to sale;

• Criminal background checks on all license applicants;

• Tough penalty guidelines for public safety violations including loss of license;

• Restricting certain advertising that may be targeted at children.

Key Consumer Safety Elements

The proposed rules provide a heightened level of consumer safety that has not existed previously.

• Packaging and label requirements including dosage and warnings;

• Child-resistant packaging for marijuana in solid and liquid forms;

• Only lab tested and approved products will be available;

• Defined serving sizes and package limits on marijuana in solid form;

• Store signage requirements to educate customers.


• Aug. 6-8: Public hearings on proposed rules

• Aug. 14: Rules adopted

• Sept. 16: Rules become effective and the state begins accepting applications for licenses for producers, processors and retailers

More information is available at